What makes Port Vila's produce market special ?
I have been to quite a few food markets in both the Pacific and Asia, and the central Port Vila Market is up there with the best of them. Not having the rich cultural history that has infused Asian cooking, there is not the array of spices and exotic greens present. That being said, Vanuatu is a country that is covered in lush vegetation and generous yearly rainfall, and as a consequence has areas of deep loamy soils ideal for the production of just about anything you want to grow.
The traditional island stables of kmala, taro and coconut are always ever present and dependable, along with about thirty different varieties of island cabbage. However, this is greatly expanded by both normal and red cabbage, lettuce, carrots, normal potatoes, along with aubergine, capsicum, cucumber,tomatoes and lettuce. There are also a variety of fresh herbs including mint, parsley (flat and normal), and coriander. As far as fruit goes, every type of banana, cooking through to ladies fingers, pineapple, oranges, lemons, limes and of course papaya which grows like a weed in Vanuatu.
However, the amazing thing is that, even though it is warm all year round and there is essentially the ability to grow anything all year, there are definite growing seasons for pretty much everything. There will be times when there are masses of bananas, but no pineapple, or anything else for that matter. As the photo shows it can at times make the term "seasonal produce" seem ridiculous, although even in the worst of times, there is always a combination of produce that can be prepared into a delicious tropical meal. Most of the time there is both a awesome variety and abundance of vegetables and herbs. Due to the french influence in its cooking, there is generally available, various types of garlic, ginger, nuts and plenty of the main herbs to be had.
As always, the lasting memories are the people. Often the sellers arrive late evening or early morning with their produce, to make sure that they get the best spot. Generally whole communities combine to ensure that they have a bench constantly occupied and roster all the farmers to suit. Sometimes they are there for days, sleeping on the hard concrete floor, and occupying their time by making leaf baskets or cleaning and trimming the vegetables for the best presentation. Seeing so much freshly grown organic food is pretty amazing, but even better is watching all the sellers in action.