A couple of miles southeast of downtown Joburg, in a place called City Deep, there’s a produce market the size of a small town. The Joburg Market (next door to the Mutliflora Market) is the largest fresh produce market in Africa — or the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, depending on who you talk to — and it’s where most of Joburg’s restaurants, produce shops, and vendors buy their fruit and veg.
The market consists of a number of halls, each one the size of a massive warehouse, where people buy produce in bulk. Two of the halls are for vegetables and two are for fruit. There are two halls devoted solely to onions and potatoes. Four of the halls are populated by wholesalers who sell smaller (but still large) quantities of the commodities traded at the market.
I met one of those wholesalers, Apple Queens owner Pranay Nagar, at a dinner party in Nelspruit several years ago. Pranay recently invited me to check out Apple Queens so I went last Friday with Thorsten and Gail.
Shopping at Apple Queens
The market is only open in the morning, and we arrived at 7:00 a.m. to catch Apple Queens at the busiest time. Gail and I took pictures, Thorsten sketched, and then we went for breakfast at a little Portuguese café on the other side of the market. We then returned to Apple Queens, did a bit of shopping, and left by about 9:00 a.m.
The coolest thing about Apple Queens is the diverse range of people who shop there. Lots of the customers are restaurant/shop-owners or food vendors, but regular shoppers also go there because the food is much cheaper than what you’ll find at a grocery store or greengrocer. I met one guy who was shopping to feed a madrasa with 40 children.
The shopping routine is different at Apple Queens than at a normal store. Upon arrival, each shopper receives a big pallet on wheels and a small paper ticket. When the shopper chooses something to buy and puts that item on their pallet, an Apple Queens staff member writes the item’s code and quantity on the ticket. The shopper queues up at the check-out window, hands over their ticket, and the cashier tallies things up and collects payment. The shopper then shows their receipt on the way out and leaves the market with a pallet full of produce.
I was too distracted by photography to really shop, but Thorsten and I did leave with a few nice packs of mushrooms and half a bag of apples, which we split with Gail.
The Rest of the Produce Market
It was fun to walk around outside between all the big halls, people-watching and dodging the big trolleys and forklifts, which come from every direction and often in reverse.
Two hours at the Joburg Market isn’t enough to really take in what’s happening there — I’ll have to go back. In the meantime thanks to Pranay and his Apple Queens co-owner, Dharmesh Dhanji, for the invite.
The Joburg Market is at 4 Fortune Street, City Deep. Open from 5:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., Monday to Saturday.