Why join a tour of Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market when you can easily walk around the overflowing stalls of fresh produce, clothing and other goods yourself? For me it’s about discovering the market’s history, learning more about the produce and meeting some of the vendors.
Locals do this tour too
With me on the tour are two good friends from Melbourne, a man also from NSW and overseas visitors from Brazil, Indonesia and the USA. There’s a buzz of activity all around us. People pulling shopping trolleys, colourful bunches of flowers poking out the top, weave their way through the crowded aisles.
Sonia, our guide, is a Melbourne woman with an Italian background. She explains that the Market opened in 1878. Pointing to the open-air car park she says that area was the site of Melbourne’s first cemetery for early settlers.
People are very much alive here as they shop here for their weekly supplies of fresh produce. Prices are good and there’s a large variety of fruit and veg which “stays fresh for two weeks,” says Sonia.
The Specialty Shopping Area
The market isn’t all fresh produce. We begin walking through the “Specialty Shopping” area. Sonia waves to the chap at Brick Lane Brewery. While this isn’t the main food area, but there’s food here. Mediterranean Pastry has put a sampling tray out. I try a yummy savoury cheese bite.
BB’s Jewellery specialises in hand crafted opal pieces. The stall has operated here for 46 years. Placing a hand inside one of his colourful socks, Bruce of Bruce Goose socks explains the properties of merino versus cotton. Merino socks “will dry in three hours” he says and “doesn’t smell like cotton does.”
Rows of hats, tables of certified Aboriginal souvenirs and artworks and Kashmiri shawls line the wide aisles. We taste Australian made Turkish Delight from a man wearing a traditional waistcoat over a chequered flannelette shirt. He’s standing inside his imported circular stand made from delightfully crafted copper-like metal complete with gold trimmed red curtains.
Many of the vendors at the Queen Victoria Market have sold their wares here for many years. Some sell fruit and veg, others meat, seafood, dairy and deli products.
Meat and Seafood
In the meat and seafood section shoppers crowd around refrigerated displays of fresh gourmet produce. Sonia encourages us to ask questions. The vendors will happily share their knowledge on the best cut of meat or type of seafood for a particular recipe.
Sonia hands out Queen Victoria Market branded calico bags and packs of cutlery. The yummy part of the tour is about to begin. First off, Tasmanian oysters. I love oysters, and these are fresh and creamy. They’re up there with the best.
The Dairy Hall
In the Dairy Hall, Sonia points out the art deco decor. Each shop’s name is painted on windows above the display cases. Some of the artwork is original with gold paint detail referencing the gold rush. One of the Melburnians comments that there’s a “good character about it. I’ve never taken much notice [before]…all the glass and the windows.”
I feel the same away. When I visited the market previously, I just walked through, looking at the food. This time Sonia encourages us to look at the building and the décor. We follow her as she weaves her way through the throng of shoppers. Her mustard-coloured jacket is easy to spot in the crowd.
Food From Around the World
Large pats of butter stand one on top of the other in the window of the last butter specialist left in the market.Salamis hang in deli windows. There are rows of fresh bread and cabinets of cheeses. The Hellenic Deli sells imported Greek produce and in the Polish Deli I spy a poppyseed cake, a favourite in my husband’s family.
Various nationalities migrated to Melbourne over the years, including Greeks and Italians. They brought with them bringing new ingredients and cooking styles to Australia all of which are on display here.
Tasting the Produce
My mouth is watering and I’m more than ready to sample some produce. We eat yummy artichokes, stuffed olives and marinated fetta. The wild boar sausage is deliciously juicy and I’ll return for the kangaroo marinated in red wine. We tuck into freshly cooked pumpkin ravioli lightly covered in a tomato sauce.
Cheese from the Corner Larder
Kevin, of the Corner Larder, knows his cheese. He’s had a cheese shop here for thirty years and has prepared a tasting tray of three cheeses for us this morning. The first is a queso de cabra or Spanish Goat’s cheese. The hard cheese has a pleasantly smooth and mild flavour.
I like smoked cheese and the Welsh cheese smoked with beechwood is delicious. Usually wary of blue cheese, I find that the Milawa blue from northern Victoria isn’t too strong for me. After all that tasting, it’s time to visit the fresh fruit market.
On our way there, we step inside Rewine, a sustainable wine shop. I’d read about Rewine in the inflight magazine on my flight down to Melbourne. Once you’ve drunk their bottled wine, gin, olive oil or cider, you can return the bottles to be refilled in the shop. It’s the perfect way to reuse rather than recycle bottles.
In the fresh food market, we meet Tony of Queens Harvest. Like Kevin, he has prepared a treat for us. First off, a finger lime. At $250/kg this is an expensive fruit. I recall an Aboriginal man telling me that finger limes give a “burst of flavour.” Tony cuts a couple open, releasing tiny balls which look a little like caviar. Tony says that the fruit quenches thirst and is good with natural oysters and Gin and Tonic.
He then cuts up a Missile apple. This small crisp red apple is the perfect size for a child’s lunch box. The third fruit Tony offers us is an acid free pineapple. They are “always sweet and the core is edible,” he says as he demonstrates how to peel and cut the fruit. It’s best to buy them green without the crown.
We end this food tour of the Queen Victoria Market with dessert. There’s always a queue for the hot fresh doughnuts from The American Doughnut Kitchen. They have been selling doughnuts here for 70 years. Hot and filled with raspberry jam, it’s the perfect end to a great morning discovering Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market.
Is the Tour of Melbourne’s Victoria Market Worthwhile?
Could I have experienced the market on my own? Yes, I could have. But my experience of the market was richer for having done the tour. I got to taste a variety of produce on offer and I met and heard from interesting stall holders.
And a Hot Chocolate to End the Morning
Before leaving the market, I find Mork Chocolate, another place I’d read about in the inflight magazine. They’re a specialty hot chocolate store. I choose a hot chocolate with a bit of theatre attached. There’s smoke involved. It’s thick and delicious.
NOTE: I joined the tour at my own expense