Normally I shop at the “Bigfala Maket” in the centre of Port Vila for our local fresh produce, but yesterday I went to the market at Manples instead.
Manples is a suburban area on the road between the centre of town and the airport. There is a branch of the Au Bon Marche supermarket and Fuel Station right next door, so it’s convenient to do a lot of things in one stop.
Generally at the “Bigfala Maket”—besides a bewildering variety and quantity of local produce—you can find goodies that appeal specifically to the expat, like fresh herbs, western-style drumhead cabbage, Irish potatoes, radishes, and masses of cut tropical flowers.
At Manples where the buyers are mostly local, there are fewer of the “exotic” foods, and the rest is even cheaper. Everything is fresh, and at these markets there’s no refrigeration or long-stored and long-distance transported produce.
So I bought a large hand of bananas (about 25) for US$2, about 15 carrots for US$1, 16 passionfruit for US$2.
Since Vanuatu banned throwaway plastic shopping bags a few years ago, everyone is accustomed to taking a few reusable shopping bags with them. If you forget to bring yours you can pick up quite roomy and robust bags that last for years for $1.
The carrots for example, were on display in plastic containers. There is no weighing. Virtually everything at the fresh produce market (except sometimes fish) is sold by volume. What ever fits in a small plastic tub for a price that is usually a multiple of 100 vatu (~US$1) or sometimes 50 vatu.
Often there is no tub – the goods are arranged in piles on the vendor’s table. For example, the passionfruit I bought were in a pile, and the price was “per pile.”
When you decide on your purchase, you simply tip the tub of fruit or veg—or you scoop the pile—into your shopping bag and hand the container back to the vendor to be refilled and returned to the display.
Like vendors everywhere in the world, they call a friendly “hello” hoping to attract your attention to their wares as you pass, but there is none of the type of pressure you see in documentaries of lands where the tourist is harassed by crowds of over-eager sellers.
There is no haggling and no tipping in Vanuatu. The price is written on a small card or sometimes directly on the item (like bananas for example, or pamplimous, which is a very large citrus fruit like a grapefruit only sweeter – very refreshing on a hot day!
For about the same price you can also buy draw-string bags that are the right size for a few kilogrammes of stuff. I keep 3-4 of those for the softer items like tomatoes, so they stay on top of the heavier items and not get squashed.
Speaking of tomatoes… remember back when your mum or dad grew them in the backyard garden? The taste of fresh-picked organically grown tomatoes? The ones you get here taste the same – and no wonder because there are no chemicals used in the growing here – all produce is by default “organically grown.” Yum!
While there at the market I could hear local music being broadcast from large speakers under a tree across the road. It was not for tourists – there have not been tourists in Vanuatu since the Covid-19(84) travel restrictions began. The music was for the locals to enjoy. It adds a nice touch.
If you can get used to a laid back lifestyle where cheap delicious tropical produce is plentiful, Vanuatu should be on your short-list for Second Citizenship or Permanent Residency.
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Lance in (100% organic) Vanuatu