WHY MARKETS FEEL GOOD

Coffee under the trees at Marrickville Market, Sydney.

I hate shopping. Mevrouw T hates crowds. So why, whether in Sydney, Amsterdam or places in between, do we follow a weekend ritual of going to the local markets?

In Amsterdam it’s the Saturday Noordermarkt in the Jordaan district. In Sydney we go to the Marrickville Market on Sundays.

It’s more than shopping. We go for the entertainment.

Amsterdam’s Noordermarkt is right by the corner of two of Amsterdam’s most beautiful canals, the Prinsengracht and the Brouwersgracht. The Protestant Noorderkerk which dominates the square dates from the 17th century.

The Noordermarkt, Amsterdam.

Marrickville Market is in the grounds of the Addison Rd Community Centre, a collection of shabby huts, relics of the site’s history as an army barracks. The buildings date from 1913 until the early 1970s. No way could it be described as beautiful, but it does have space, grass, and places to sit.

I don't have evidence to prove that a Marrickville Turkish gozleme is healthier than a Big Mac, but I want to believe it.

Markets showcase local culture.

Hurdy-gurdy man, Amsterdam Noordermarkt.

In Amsterdam’s Noordermarkt this means predominantly the culture of the old Amsterdammers of the Jordaan area, with the trendy Dutch people who now live there.

The Jordaan of the 1950s was a crowded, unhygienic working class slum, with 80,000 inhabitants.

Now only 12,000 people live there. Four-storey buildings which each used to house four large families are now lived in by yuppie couples or empty-nesters, each with their own smart apartment, with a bathroom.

Marrickville's Reverse Garbage. It may not be great art, but it sure gets rid of those exhaust pipes.


In Marrickville you see a lot of tattoos, piercings and interesting haircuts wandering past.

This is also a former working-class area, which has become popular with the arty, alternative, counter-culture people. The Addison Rd Community Centre is home to the Reverse Garbage Depot and the Bower, where industrial junk is recycled into art materials and furniture is restored.

The community nursery cultivates plants indigenous to the area and gives away free garden mulch. Addison Rd provides affordable rehearsal space to fringe theatre, dance and music companies. All good things which ought to be encouraged.

At the Bower, I found this Dr Who Tardis - a steal at...(what??)...$2595! Well, it's not just art, it's the perfect answer to storage problems in a limited space.

Buying from the producers feels good.

It gives us a warm fuzzy feeling to buy from the pretty girl who milked her grandma’s goats and made her own cheese, then rode her bike into Amsterdam carrying it in the basket on her handlebars, wrapped in a red and white checked tea towel.

It doesn’t matter that the cheese may have been mass-produced in Bulgaria and that the pretty girl is a Polish university student. Don’t ask, don’t tell. The market environment makes it feel authentic.

This stall at the Noordermarkt has its own oven, so you can see the bread being made. Never mind that the bread is not as good as our local baker's, we like to watch. And smell.

Junk food is better at markets.

You can have an in-depth discussion about olive oil with someone who seems to know what he's talking about.

In Amsterdam, market fast food means Dutch apple cake and whipped cream from Winkel, the cafĂ© on the corner of the Westerstraat that regularly wins the people’s choice award for best appeltaart in town.

On market days it can be hard to get a seat outside and the appeltaart queue can go around the corner.

In multicultural Marrickville there is a wider choice of snacks; gozleme from the Turkish ladies, vegetarian wraps, ‘home made’ quiches, ‘hand made’ German bread, Chinese dumplings, sizzling sausages and the Argentinian BBQ.

The coffee is way better in Marrickville, as it is everywhere in Sydney compared to Amsterdam.

The coffee cart at Marrickville does a roaring trade. Give your order, pay your money, take your ticket and wait for your number to be called. It’s worth the wait.

There’s a social scene.

We usually meet people we know at the markets. Even if we don’t we like to see other people who know each other meeting up.

And a disclosure of interest…our daughter regularly has a second-hand clothing stall at Marrickville Market. She buys stock at charity depots, choosing items in excellent condition with a known designer on the label. Her prices are way below the retail value of the items and her stall is very popular, with many regular customers. It’s a good business from which everybody gets a good deal. It makes everybody happy.

Our daughter at her recycled clothing stall in Marrickville Market. And there's a story attached...

The dress she’s displaying happens to be from King Louis, the Amsterdam clothing company for which my brother-in-law works, based in the Jordaan.

It is very likely to have been bought in the Jordaan and has now found its way to Marrickville, thus neatly connecting the two markets and providing a neat ending to this post.

9 Comments

Filed under Travel-Australia

9 responses to “WHY MARKETS FEEL GOOD

  1. Caroline Whiteside

    Nice pic of Telma. Give her my love.

  2. Whenever we visit somewhere new we always make sure we visit the local market if we can. We rarely buy anything but the market seems to be the place which often defines the place!

    • We’re with you on that, Andrew. Though I confess I also like to visit other people’s shopping malls and supermarkets. Not as photogenic as the street market perhaps, but I get a sense of how people really live.

  3. I look forward to visiting the markets in Amsterdam. I shop at the farmers’ markets in Brisbane and I can feel it doing me good. There are some excellent markets here in Italy as well.

    • Debra, Albert Cuyp markets in Amsterdam are also worth a visit, but the Noordermarkt on a Saturday wins for its beautiful location.

      And in Italy we loved the Torino markets, near where we were staying, though it was all a bit intimidating for non-Italian speakers.

      No such problem in Amsterdam – everyone speaks English better than we do.

  4. Richard, This piece reminds me of an essay in Serious Pig by John Thorne, one of the best but least talked about American food writers. He was mulling over why people shop in supermarkets in preference to small mom and pop stores and came to the conclusion that it was mainly to avoid the personal social intercourse necessary in the smaller shops. The anonymity and uniformity of supermarkets are more comforting to us. Your discomfiture at the Torino markets might be an example; foreign brands aren’t so intimidating as foreign people. But it’s good to hear that outdoor markets are flourishing.

    • Yes, I like my anonymity too Heather.

      If I pause to try someone’s self-grown olive oil in a market, there’s an expectation that I will buy it, or if I don’t, that I’m saying that I don’t like it.

      Any explanation that I already have six bottles of the stuff in an overcrowded kitchen cupboard probably won’t be believed. Especially if I try to explain in Italian.

      • I think it’s us who feel guilty about not buying and imagine the expectation on the part of the vendor. In fact, although of course any vendor wants to sell his goods, I find Italian ones are equally happy to have our appreciation. All you have to do is taste, smile, make the thumbs up sign and walk on. If you look back, you’ll see the vendor smiling too.

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