Being Hip in Braamfontein: Neighbour Goods Market and Ramen

A few months ago, I travelled down to Cape Town on business during the glorious summer months. About a week before that, I had a dropped my Blackberry outside lulu in Rosebank and the screen became racist and only showed me white. I think the phone dropping was because I was disgusted that my favourite shop in Rosebank, Dugz, had been kicked out and this chain store had taken over their location. The proliferation of franchises saddens me but anyway, I am digressing. As my temporary phone, I had a stunning Nokia 1608. You charge the battery once in its lifetime and it will never go flat and you felt all retro when you pressed the number “2” three whole times in order to get the letter “c.” Ah, the good old days.

I met some friends at Rick’s Café somewhere in Cape Town. Seriously, it’s Cape Town – the suburbs are split into “in front of mountain” and “behind mountain” so this was situated “in front of mountain” – pretty sure you know where that is. I needed to use the bathroom and well, after a series of events; the phone was flushed down the toilet. I actually found this pretty hilarious. So did my friends. What this did mean was that from that Thursday evening to Saturday when I got back to Jozi, I had to go through life without a phone. The experience of being out of contact with the world is honestly amazing. It actually had a profound effect on the course my life has taken since then. But I’m not actually relaying that story to you. Why I did mention this whole story is that Saturday morning, I met Desrie at a designated time (because I did not have a phone to confirm the time or say I’m running late so we had to decide on a time the day before when I saw her!) at the Old Biscuit Mill (I think this is “behind mountain.”) Here, every Saturday morning is the original Neighbour Goods Market. The food there is spectacular and the venue is just magnificent. Also, I tasted the hottest chilli ever at the market. I can’t exactly remember the store but after I made fun of the “chilli” that the shop owner made, he smiled at me, told me to wait for a few minutes and then came out with this concoction of evil. I tasted it in the shop and was pretty pleased with the heat it imbued into my taste buds. For the next 15 minutes, I ran around the market looking for a bush knife to cut off my tongue due to the intense heat. Desrie laughed at me because I actually deserved it. I would have laughed if I was her.

This market has now opened in Jozi in the new and hip (yes, I did just use the word “hip”) suburb of Braamfontein.

Neighbour Goods Market Sign

Before we get to the market, let’s talk a little bit about Braamfontein for a moment. For years, it was known as the place you send letters to. I can’t remember the early 90s TV program that had an address in Braamfontein. Anyway, being part of the CBD, it became a notoriously unsafe area to visit. However, over the last few years, it’s been undergoing this urban renewal. There is a lot to do in Braam these days: Kitchener’s Carvery, Alexander Theatre, Joburg Theatre, kos’potong which is right next to the big eland, Tom’s Music and the pretty new 70 Juta. There is also a really amazing and cheap Durban Indian take-away in Braam that Amilcar found. None of this has made Braam into a place you’d go to if there wasn’t a special event happening. Just before I got to the market, I met the lovely folks from the Johannesburg Book and Movie Club just up the road from the market at what is called “The Grove.” Here sits the new (and seriously reasonably priced) Lamunu Hotel and two restaurants, Velo and Ramen. Once I was there, I got the vibe that this is somewhere I would come to meet friends on a Friday night even though it is in the CBD. That feeling is one that has been lacking in all these new urban renewal projects – a huge round of applause is in order (that means you should be clapping round about now.)

I was hungry. One thing I didn’t mention to you about the Cape Town market was that all the food on display, even though it’s exquisite looking with ingredients that make you realise how amazing life is, the prices are ever so slightly inflated. For good food, this ever so slightly inflated price is okay. But not when you are hungry. When you are hungry, you want substance. This is why franchises work – a R38 medium pizza from Scooters WILL fill you. The equivalent at the market is a slice of pizza for R38. This pizza would make the Scooter’s pizza taste like the steam that the lost boys in Disney’s Hook ate BUT the Scooters pizza WILL fill you.

Enter Ramen.

Yes, they serve noodles. But they also serve bunny chows. I guess it’s the character of the city that inspired this. The restaurant is neatly situated in The Grove just below the hotel with the décor keeping with the hip vibe permeating through this part of the CBD. The light bulbs were the first to draw my interest. The chandelier (is that the right word) truly intrigued me with the over-sized light bulbs forming a familiar cluster that gave a superb effect. The over-sized light bulbs are carried through to the market. The bulbs do look fantastic even though they are the old incandescent type.

2160W of light bulbs

The décor is simple yet works really well. The chairs inside the restaurant are these wooden boxes which are quite hip. Even the flowers are all Japanese looking and also quite hip.

Inside Ramen

Flowers at Ramen

The actual reason why I mentioned this place instead of just talking about the market is because of the food. Firstly, the Chicken Noodles cost me only R40. Secondly, it came in this oh so hip bowl and plate with the even hipper soy sauce pouring jug thingie. Thirdly, the portion was huge which is contrary to every other modern hip eatery in Jozi. But the main reason is because these are the best noodles I’ve had since I was in Thailand. The aromas were magnificent with the flavour beautifully following through. There was this organic, fresh aftertaste that danced on the palate and made you raise your eyebrows. Why these surprised me even more is that I usually order rice instead of noodles as I’m not the biggest fan of noodles. The dishes left the table with not a single noodle remaining. Ramen is HIGHLY recommended.

Noodles

The market itself is situated opposite 70 Juta at 73 Juta Street in what looks like, well, I’m not sure. It’s like a cross between a warehouse and a parking lot. The entrance is just pretty. The Neighbour Goods Market sign lazily greets you into this even prettier alley lit by the oversized incandescent bulbs and complemented by bags of plant. It all works very well. You then stroll up a ramp and the market greets you with this happy vibe. The building is cleverly designed with the sunlight stretching to all corners of the space.

Entrance to Neighbour Goods Market

Bags of Plants on the wall

Food of all types and forms is on offer. There are fresh vegetables to these exhorbitantly priced pizzas to Spanish to Ethiopian with even some Vegan chocolate thrown in the mix somewhere there. As with all hip places, they have the Brewers Union beers for you to quaff down. I really can’t taste much of a difference between this and the industrial made beers made locally (or in Namibia) but alas, to be hip, you must drink it. Seeing that I was stuffed from the noodles at Ramen, I did not taste anything on offer. This did not phase me as I will be back. The atmosphere at the market is that type which sucks you in and tells you: “You will be back here.”

Ethiopian Food

Honest Chocolate

Upstairs is the bar and some non-food items such as really nice crockery and clothing. One thing that did a lot to bring out the character of the market are these pink flowers. Anyway, the market was seriously busy as it was the first edition of the market. Taking a cue from Market on Main, this will be the general trend every week. The hip people have embraced these new designer markets and to me, this is just great.

Pink Flowers at the bar

Spot the hipster

When to go: The market is open every Saturday morning. However, taking a drive on a Friday night might be pretty cool. Kitchener’s Carvery normally have some sort of event on weekends and there is the odd chance that there is an event at the Alex Theatre. The Grove area looks like it would make a really great Friday night chilled hangout.

How to get there: Coming from the M1 North, take the Jan Smuts turnoff then keep driving on the road till you almost at the Nelson Mandela Bridge. If you are on the bridge, you’ve gone too far. On the left hand side of the bridge, there is a slipway that leads you to Juta Street. Once you enter Juta, the market will be opposite you on your left when you get to the first stop street. You’ll hear the market if your windows are open. You’ll find parking somehow. Don’t stress.

Cost: The food at the market is not exorbitant but it’s not exactly cheap either. The food is mostly home-made or made in small batches with the one ingredient that actually makes a difference – love. If you think this doesn’t make a difference, think about a mutton curry made by your mum compared to one you buy at a shop. Take cash.

Anything Else: I wore my skinny jeans just to fit in. Okay, you don’t have to wear trendy clothing but this is where the hip kids hang out during the day. They are mostly harmless so don’t be too scared. Although I’ve kinda made fun of the hip kids in this post, they’re the guys that actually ensure Jozi is as awesome as it is as they are the ones that ensure amazing spaces such as this exists.

Vintage Bike

10 thoughts on “Being Hip in Braamfontein: Neighbour Goods Market and Ramen

  1. Interesting post. I guess it all comes down to disliking corporate and franchising. That’s why more effort goes into what they sell. We don’t need brands to make us cool I think unity as a whole makes us cool. Peace shot for the effort. . Ps: stay away from the thick stodgy pizza for 38 bucks from corporate.

  2. I really dig the blog, man. For some reason I had it in my head that Joburg always has been a dirty mining town and it always will be a dirty mining town. I never knew the city had such depth to it. I didn’t know it had such soul. The boyfriend’s off football since his team’s tragic defeat last night so Saturday we’ll be checking out this place. Cheers for the idea! It’s awesome to feel like a tourist in your own city!

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