This little piggy went to market.

Triptychs are cool. Especially if they are of things you can stuff in your face.

Intense pride, based purely on the city you happen to live in is something that happens everywhere. Except maybe for Uitenhage. That place just sucks and I think everyone who lives there knows it. That’s why they all wear Ed Hardy tracksuit pants.  In the day.  It’s the first sign of having given up on life.

Okay…carrying on. This, ‘home town pride’ thing happens everywhere, right? The bloody Parisians are just rotten with smugness with how their ‘city of lights’ is the cultural center of the known universe. New York has all that legendary rudeness that they seem to be so happy about, London has all those skinny boys with floppy hair that live on the dole until…you know, the band takes off. Melbourne seems to like coffee a lot, and Rio has all the beaches with hot people on them.  Whatever it is – there’s a thing that binds humans who live in a particular place together as being from that place and damn proud of it: an architectural, social or creative pole around which to build an intense feeling of shared identity.

Oh, hello Johannesburg, what were you doing over there? Oh I see, someone’s left their car in this parking lot? Of course, you were just making sure it was safe. I totally understand. Oh what? The safest place for it is in your garage? Um…okay, I guess so, just don’t break the…window. What? Oh, yes I just bought these shoes yesterday, nice hey? Oh…really? But, then I wont have any nice shoes and that would make me sad. Oh well, I guess I can’t argue with that large knife and your gold tooth. Wow, this pavement isn’t fun to walk on at all.

You see… in dear, amazing Jozi it’s something different.  Because let’s face it – Joburg is not pretty, it doesn’t work very well as a city (too big and too much Midrand), and although money doesn’t grow on trees just yet (despite the best efforts of some idiot gang who were so bad at faking R200 notes that absolutely no-one accepts them anymore and they might as well just be uncomfortably-shaped pieces of orange paper that you can’t even wipe your bum with because they chafe…), money is the root of just about everything that happens here – which does mean that people’s priorities are quite fundamentally skewed a lot of the time.  But you know what?  We’re extraordinarily proud that we are able to call a place that’s doing it’s damnedest to kill us, ‘home’.  And what’s more, we’re kinda cool with that – in fact it defines us to some extent. And don’t you dare say anything bad about it – because we’ll hijack your car and steal your watch. And then also possibly try and sleep with your sister just to prove a point.  At the end of the day; the more that the traffic lights don’t work, the more the roads look like a cheese that is more hole than cheese, the more we hear that rising acid mine water is going to sweep us away out of our own bathtubs, the more we accept that the best view we’re likely to get while eating at a restaurant is of a parking lot (where usually some people are trying to rob some other people), the more intensely we love this this place. And that’s what makes us us.

But why? Goddammit, why? Well… (and please set your cliche sensitivity setting right down to ‘punch me in the face I like it’) it’s because there’s a ridiculous energy to this town. It’s just so fucking there you feel it’s going to slap you in the face, or at the very least try and grab your ass.  Johannesburg bounces with an irrepressible ‘can do’ stubbornness and gusto that delights in creating something where previously there was perhaps just a nothing with some some drunk people trying to make a fire out of it.  People here positively crackle with a vigor and a whole-heartedness that is, I would like to think, unique in all the world (and if you disagree with me…those are some nice shoes you have).   We want to do something.  We want to make something, and we want other people to come along for the ride – and it’s crazily, utterly infectious.

I sometimes think it’s got a lot do with the fact that anyone who arrives here, actually likes it (usually after someone’s tried to run them over in a Hummer with customized number plates that say Sori4u GP) and decides to stay, is going to make damn sure that something positive is comes out of the experience.

That’s the scene. Consider it set.

So, about two years ago I pounded out a bit of a rant about how our dear city had fundamentally missed the boat on creating a vibrant market experience that was more than just someone selling jam out the boot of their car. Capetown was mocking us with the riotous success of the Biscuit Mill and the best we could do was say, “Oh….well, you know what? Your mountain sucks. And your mom’s ugly,” and then sulk off home to count our money and plan our next customized number plate.

It was distressing. Joburgers don’t like being beaten at stuff. And it might take us a while to get around to, but eventually we’ll stop being all materialistic and self-involved for just long enough to start figuring out just how best to go about beating your ass. And so, after about 18 months of false hopes with little market-type things popping up here and there, it seems a bunch of people might just have done it.

Finger’s crossed. The first Market on Main happened this Sunday at Arts on Main, and considering that it was the first one – it seemed that I wasn’t the only person who’s been desperate for a real market to come along – because everyone came along to see what was what.

Arts on Main is a venue that I think has had it’s heart firmly in the right place but has just struggled a little bit to really nail down its purpose. So yeah, William Kentridge has a studio there, and Black Coffee has an outlet there, and there’s a decent restaurant – but it always felt like it just didn’t have that….thing. Like meeting a beautiful and beguiling woman who oozes confidence and who has shiny hair and glamorous ankles and stuff, but then you realise she’s actually not a girl at all, it’s Mikhael Gorbachev.  And you don’t quite know why you spent the last three hours buying Mikhael Gorbachev all those vodka martinis – because you’re sure as hell you’re not going to let him stick his tongue down your throat, no matter how many languages he can say ‘you have pretty eyes’ in.

Okay – so that was, whatever…but hopefully you know what I mean. So, Arts on Main, now with it being the venue for a proper realive live grown up sunday food/clothes/wine/beer/fresh produce/live music/general fun-morning-out-market – has maybe just found that thing to help it really hit its stride.

And…there was food! And cheese! And wine! And trees to sit under! Clothes! Music! Beer! Girls in short skirts!  And … people having fun: wandering around in this sort of daze, with expressions that positively reeked of ‘I didn’t know we were capable of making something this…nice.’ It worked, and you could just feel that this is something that could potentially grow up to have a real identity and presence in the gastro/entertainment/whatever landscape of this city. Of course it wasn’t perfect, but that you can definitely chalk up to ‘learning curve’, but here’s hoping that this might be the real deal. Because I for one think that there’s more to be proud of about living in Joburg than “I am still alive” – and this sort of thing, is it.

Besides, how else am I supposed to wander around in public with a glass of wine before 12am on a Sunday?

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You see that Prawn? Now kiss it.

 

A fate no sea-creature should be ashamed of - on a plate with lemon.

Curing emotional stress with food is either the best idea in the world or a one-way ticket to not fitting in your pants. But you know what? Fuck it, that’s what wizened Chinese tailors are for.

Because, lets face it – what with everyone being angry at the fun half of Europe for refusing to allow the rest of the world to just get on with its financial recovery, boy bands re-uniting all over the place like reject circus clowns and the Pentagon being unable to figure out their response to the clear and present danger of rubbish 3D movies – what the hell is there left that’s good in the world, if not stuffing your face?

Comfort food is traditionally one of those topics that’s trotted out during the winter months with glowingly photoshopped picture of stews  (giant chunks of sheep swimming with manly bits of carrot and whatnot), artfully torn hunks of peasant bread and pies that were initially invented to feed a burly miner for an entire day, but which are now generally wolfed down as a warm-up to a main-course of Bourbon-soaked ribs (mmmm… ribs) – but I reject this thoroughly weatherist idea of ‘comfort food’ as only being a meat-bombardment-that’s-meant-to-insulate-you-against-ridiculous-Northern-Hemisphere-winters-that-are-literally-trying-to-freeze-your-balls/wobbly-bits-off-while-you’re-not-looking, and instead suggest that comfort food is whatever the hell makes you feel better about yourself when life has slapped you in the face Days of our Lives-style and you’re feeling pretty kak about it all.

And obviously – when you go by that definition, everyone’s idea of what that might actually be is going to be totally different, and more often than not, delightfully irrational. For example, when I was a kid, it was this bizarre dehydrated soya mince stuff called Toppers (it doesn’t exist anymore, possibly because someone found out that it was actually made of the ancient remains of mummified Pharaohs).  If ever I was miserable  (and I was a 9 year-old, 3’2” vegetarian with allergies to all wheat and dairy – so that was fairly common) – a packet of this stuff would be hauled out and glooped over a baked potato – and it never *ever* failed to cheer me up. Go figure.

So, having been in the doldrums fairly recently and with no soya products near at hand – I turned to the other thing that possibly makes me happier than anything else in the world (and that includes Youtube clips of kittens) – seafood.

No one could ever accuse a prawn of being the cuddliest of animals – in fact they sort of look like mini alien-babies that are trying to eat your brain (damn you District 9), but some would argue that that’s what makes them all the more satisfying to eat by the bucketload.

So, repeat after me class – “When Forlorn,  Eat a Prawn!”

Ingredients

For 2/3 people

Marinade

1 tsp John West minced garlic

1 tsp John West minced chilli     * just a quick word about this stuff – it is my newest discovery and seriously, seriously fucking amazing. Try your best to find it if you can, it’s totally totally worth it (I’m repeating words so you know I must mean it). But if you can’t or you’re too lazy, which is fine too, finely chop up 1 large clove of garlic and one fat fresh chilli, de-seeded instead – that’ll do the trick just as well…

2 large ripe tomatoes (cut into quarters)

1 onion (also cut into quarters)

a handful of fresh basil

a couple of stalks of fresh oreganum, leaves stripped (chuck the stalks after)

zest and juice of 1 lemon (don’t throw away the rind – you’re going to use it!)

1 tbspn brown sugar

1 tbspn tomato paste

salt

pepper

Prawns for 2/3 (only you know how much you can eat) – cleaned, but with the shell on (get these from a fishmonger, they’ll be fresher, cheaper, bigger and all the more satisfying – and you can ask them to clean them and remove all the veiny bits)

What to do

This is so easy it’s not even funny,  either in a large bowl or in a food processor, lob in all the marinade ingredients and either using a handheld blitzing stick (if you’re going the bowl route) or the pulse setting on your food processor, reduce it all to a thick paste. At this point taste it, no matter how unappetizing it may look – dip your finger in and give it a lick.  You might find you want a bit more salt or pepper or that there isn’t enough lemon or whatever – so now’s the time to find out and make the adjustments! (and if you’re feeling like it’s missing just…something, add a shake or two of thai fish sauce – that should sort it out).

Get the prawns into a deep-ish baking tray that’ll comfortably hold them all and cover with the marinade and let them swim in it for about 20 minutes or so. Don’t overdo it though, you want them to be nicely coated – not drowning.  Also, cut the remains of the lemon you used in the marinade into quarters and nestle them in there as well.

Get the oven up to about 200〫C, bung in the tray of prawns and leave them there until they’re pink and sizzling – no more than about 20 minutes worth of cooking.

And then, this is the bit where you get to do whatever you want really, because you can serve these with pasta or potato wedges or even rice or heated flatbreads if that’s your speed. This is totally your comfort-scenario, not mine.