I have been living in French Polynesia for 4 years now, and I must admit that I have rarely taken the time to visit the Papeete market early on a Sunday morning. The only time I remember was when I came back from a trip in France where the time difference played tricks on me and I found myself wide awake during the middle of the night and fast asleep during the day…
You’ll probably wonder why a Sunday morning in particular? Quite simply, it’s when the market is at its best. Indeed, all the producers and sellers set up outside the central market. Usually, during the week, the market is open but only inside under cover….
The atmosphere outside in the streets very early on a Sunday morning is very different and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone spending a few days here. I really think that it is the most unmissable event in Papeete. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that it’s the most beautiful market of all time, especially if you’ve had the opportunity to see some of the others in Asia or Africa. However I still find it charming with all its colours, flowers, fruits, vegetables, and best of all, smiles! I will tell you all about it, with some photos too.
So here I am standing at 5:00 am, aiming for an arrival at the first rays of sunlight, at 6 o’clock on the dot. Believe it or not, but I am very far from being the first one here and there are already lots of people. The Polynesians get up very early … one lives with the sun in the tropics. I took the time to find a place next to the cathedral and here I am.
You find yourself soaking up the atmosphere from the moment you arrive watching the stallholders setting out their wares in the streets in front of the different entrances into the indoor market. I think I’m right in saying that they simply turn up and pay for their space by the meter. There are usually people already looking at what’s on offer to buy very early in the morning, not wanting to miss out on the fresh fruit, vegetables, various freshly squeezed juices, Chinese cakes, etc. There’s always something for everyone!
After having eaten a tasty croissant/pain au chocolate with a steaming hot coffee bought from one of the stands, I continued my walk towards the many fruit and vegetable stands.
Here in French Polynesia, fruit and vegetables can be bought by lots or in trays. It’s absolutely nothing like shopping in the big supermarkets back home of course! When you buy your goods from the stallholders, you’ll pay something like 500xpf for a lot of this or 200xpf for a lot of that, and that’s all you need to know…
Even though I’ve been living in the tropics for quite some time, I am still discovering things I’m not familiar with like weird vegetables and so on. I think it’s really cool!
I enjoy watching the beautiful market scenes that can be seen around here. In fact, I need to go back several more times to take more pictures, especially in the early morning light (which is better), as there is always more to see.
There are stands all around the market with everyone selling their homegrown products and it’s a great way to spend an early morning. There is so much choice; giant beans, breadfruit (“Uru”), carrots, mape, eggplant, pota (young leaves), lettuces, even watermelons and pumpkins!
After having toured the fruit and vegetable stands, you can continue into the indoor market itself, where you will immediately find a vast array of fish and seafood! A word of advice, just before you go in through the main entrance, turn right into a small alley and there be sure to get yourself a superb fresh pressed sugar cane juice. It is a delight and it reminds me of the year I spent in Southeast Asia, where we used to drink it all the time.
This sugar cane juice is so good, don’t miss it!
For those who have never had it, you really must try it, you never know, you might like it as much as I do! It’s actually a real treat as it’s not that common, even in French Polynesia, I only know of very few places where you can find sugar cane juice.
Among the things I wasn’t aware of before I arrived in French Polynesia, is the mape. This tree, also known as the Tahitian Chestnut tree, is found on almost all of the high islands, at the bottom of valleys and along the banks of rivers. It’s not originally from French Polynesia, but it can be found both in the markets and being sold by street vendors in Papeete and Tahiti (even more so in the peninsula)! When cooked, the little chestnut is quite tasty!
Now it’s time to go back to the fish and shellfish! You can enjoy your sugar cane juice while walking around these beautiful stands… You will find every fish that you can think of that everyone here is lucky enough to be able to eat: ature (better known as “scad”), parrot-fish, grouper, blue/white tuna, red mullet, etc. Depending on the season, you will also find lobsters, goat-fish (river shrimp), crabs, korori (pearl oyster muscles).
You can finish your walk around the market in the “Pua’a Roti” area where you can find grilled pork, which is absolutely delicious! Don’t worry if you’re not too keen on pork, you can also find lots of other meats and sausages, which still give you that delicious barbecue, grilled taste. Frankly, it’s something I really like. Everything is prepared in front of you and you can go from stand to stand picking out whatever takes your fancy. A little tip is to go to the stands where the Tahitians are queuing up!
If you are here on holiday, you can of course finish your visit at one of the many tourist stands (haha!) I’m sure you’ll be tempted to bring back some little souvenirs (monoï, hats, etc.).
If like me you are sometimes quite happy to sit and watch the world go by, you will definitely enjoy spending a couple of hours watching the comings and goings of the traders and their customers, it’s pretty cool. Once again, I repeat, my advice to visit the market in Papeete on a Sunday morning is to … come early!
By the way, if you are looking for a rental car to drive around Tahiti Island, you can check out this site.
For those who know Papeete and its market, do you like spending time at the market on a Sunday morning? Who knows, maybe we’ll run into each other sometime! Finally, if you have a few days ahead of you to visit the island of Tahiti, I invite you to visit the Vaipahi water garden!
See you soon,