When you travel to the southern-most country on the African continent, chances are you don’t expect to find some of the best Indian food you’ll ever have, but that’s exactly what happens when you arrive in South Africa. Particularly in Durban, the biggest city in the KwaZulu-Natal province on the eastern coast of the country – and South Africa’s third largest city – which is home to the biggest Indian population outside of India.
Not only will you find excellent Indian cuisine in Durban, you’ll also find the spice markets where you can buy whatever you need to make those dishes at home. Even if you’re not a chef, browsing the aisles of a spice market is a very cool travel experience.
For a one-stop-shopping experience in Durban’s city center, head for the Victoria Street Market, located on the corner of Victoria Street and Queen Street. This market was built in the 1980s, replacing an Indian market built in 1910 that burned down in the 1970s. Spread out over two floors, you’ll find everything from souvenir T-shirts and spare luggage (for all those knickknacks you’ve picked up) to jewelry, artwork, fabrics, fresh vegetables and meat.
Follow your nose and you’ll quickly locate one of the many spice merchants in the Victoria Street Market (known locally as “The Vic”). Here, you’ll see vibrantly-colored spices, often piles into conical shapes and sometimes with amusing names. “Mother-in-Law Killer” is a hot spice, but you might need to ask what “Boy Spice” tastes like. Or, better yet, ask for a sample. Most merchants are also happy to help you either figure out what spice you need, or to tell you what to cook with that spice you bought.
Haggling in the Victoria Street Market is perfectly fine – especially if you’re buying lots of stuff from one vendor – but the prices are often reasonable enough that if you don’t feel like negotiating that’s fine, too. Be prepared to pay with cash, not credit cards.
All that spice shopping leave you feeling peckish? No worries – there are food stalls at the Victoria Street Market, too, where you can grab a cheap and delicious bite to eat before continuing with your shopping.
Note that the Victoria Street Market, like any crowded and busy market, sometimes has problems with pickpockets. Keep your valuables safe, either by locking them in the hotel safe or tucking them into a money belt worn under your clothing. Don’t look like a target, and you stand a better chance of avoiding potential problems.
The Victoria Street Market is open from 8am until 6pm Monday-Saturday, and 10am until 6pm on Sundays and public holidays. There’s an underground parking garage if you have your own car, or you can book a guided tour of both this market and the nearby “muthi” markets selling traditional African herbs and medicine.