Halfway through our tour of Adelaide Central Market, BK laments “I wish we had a market like this in Sydney.” He loves the variety and European market feel as we walk through the avenues of stalls. Our guide, Broni, explains that the diversity of products on offer reflects the cultural mix of migrants to Adelaide.
How the Markets got Started
Some stalls have been here for close to 70 years passing down generations. From its early beginnings in 1869, when growers sold produce from open carts, the market now comprises up to 80 stalls with over 150 more shops in the surrounding Market Arcade and Market Plaza.
Broni tells the delightful story of how a breakaway group of growers, led by a brass band at 3am one morning, left the East End Markets on foot to set up on the plot of land where the Central Markets now stand. They had sold out by 6am.
The Tour Starts with…Ham
Our small group of four – tour groups are kept small – follows Broni to our first tasting ‘station.’ Family run Lucia’s has three parts. There’s coffee – Lucia was the first to bring and espresso coffee pot to Adelaide, a pizza and spaghetti outlet and a deli for charcuterie and pasta sauces.
Gold lettering on the original ‘50s glass window storefront suggests calling 51*2303 for phone orders. For our first taste of the day, Broni hands round a plate of finely sliced ham from Adelaide Hills milk fed pigs. It’s moist, flavoursome and not too salty.
I like vanilla yoghurt, but it’s often too sweet. The small tub of creamy vanilla bean yogurt from the multi-award-winning Yoghurt Shop is just right. We’re on a roll now and the tasting continues in earnest.
The Mushroom Man’s Mushroom Shop, which also has white asparagus for sale today, sells whole cloves of black garlic, cooked slowly over days. That’s a new one for me. As Broni holds it out I get a whiff of smoke. We taste a pinch of truffle and black garlic salt. There’s a hint of truffle in the grainy brown salt.
A board runs the City Council owned Adelaide Central Market. The market is on the ground with a car park above. I do spy a man crouched in an opening in the signage above a veggie stall passing down boxes of fresh fruit.
There’s Something for Everyone
There’s something for everyone at this market. Vegans make a beeline for Jamu who sell slices made with date bases, cold pressed juices and other vegan products. We sample a Peanut Butter Jelly slice. I’m not fond of peanut butter unless it’s slathered, with butter, on hot toast. Next time, I’ll try a different flavour.
Another family-owned stall, Charlesworth, has been here since 1934. They sell nuts and dried fruit and their stores can be found all over Adelaide. Broni likes their “Christmas Cake Packs” which come with the fruit and nuts pre measured for an easy bake. Their dry roasted almonds have a fresh rich taste.
Prices to Suit all Budgets
As Broni explains there’s a “price point for all budgets” in the market. Apples for example are priced differently depending on whether or not they are polished or have a slight blemish. A guest on one of Broni’s tours noticed beans being sold for $19.99kg and elsewhere for $4.00kg.
Having recently bought dishwashing liquid in bulk, I’m drawn to the set up in House of Health. Wooden paneling hides the bulk storage containers. Labels above brass taps offer bodywash, handwash, shampoo and more, all on tap. They also encourage customers to return their glass milk bottles for reuse.
During COVID, the market continued to operate, and apparently no stallholder closed up due to a downturn in custom. Stall holders policed customers, ensuring they maintained a safe distance and didn’t linger.
Between 8.5 and 9 million people visit Adelaide Central Markets each year. This Saturday morning the market is busy, but doesn’t feel too crowded. Our small group easily follows Broni and stays out of the way of shoppers.
Former AFL player and Indigenous man, Daniel Motlop co-founded Something Wild which specializes in native greens and wild game. In the display cabinet, are platters of kangaroo, venison, emu, wild boar, crocodile and camel.
With a closer look, a bowl of what looks like green beans is more like the ‘leaf’ of the pigface plant. I take a bite. Called karkalla, it’s crunchy, salty and full of juice. Broni hands round an unopened bottle of gin pointing to the ants floating in the clear Green Ant Gin. Ants also garnish the wattle seed ganache tartlets.
We wander along the market ‘Avenues’, passing mounds of large juicy tomatoes and shiny green and red peppers. One of the guests comments “my grandmother used to grow tomatoes like these.” BK adds “I’d be a disaster if I lived here. I’d spend a fortune.”
A Good Tip
Broni offers a tip. The Saturday market closes at three o’clock. After lunch, stall holders reduce the prices of their fresh produce. The noise level rises as they call out their offerings to attract customers.
The tasting continues with a green veg and herb pancake with a thick sweet chicken sauce from Sun Mi, paella from Cumbia’s paella and from Real Falafel, what is “possibly the best falafel in Australia” according to Broni. Served with hummus, it’s certainly light and moist.
And then…there’s more
We enjoy Turkish Delight, a double shot of iced coffee, creamy, rich and only slightly sweet. I learn that Blackeby’s Old Sweet Shop was the first stall in the market to have electric lighting and a till.
At Smelly Cheese, which sells mostly imported cheeses, we taste a washed rind ash, a nutty aged comté and a stilton. There’s also a very pleasant French Rosé.
Next, we enjoy a strawberry dipped in wattle seed chocolate sauce and back at The Mushroom Man, a button mushroom cooked with a porcini salt.
Well, that was fun
After ending the tour with coffee, we return to Smelly Cheese to purchase cheese and biscuits and a bottle of rosé for dinner. On the way we bump into Broni. She’s carrying a number of bulging shopping bags. Looking down at her shopping, she jokes “What am I going to cook tonight? What can’t I cook?”
- Get a map of the Adelaide Central Market from the information desk at the Gouger Street Entrance, or download one here
- Find out more about the market here
- The market is open Tuesdays to Saturdays. Closed Sundays and Mondays. Check opening times on website
- And if you’re visiting Melbourne, here’s a link to my post on the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne.