Friday 29 February 2008

Queen Victoria Market - day and night

Two dollar kilos a dollar
Hett two!
Dollar bag! Dollar bag!
Dollar bag the banana
Kay Cardell, Cries of the Victoria Market)
If I had to pick a favourite market, it would probably be the Queen Victoria Market. It is on the corner of Elizabeth and Victoria Streets at the edge of Melbourne’s Central Business District, and about 10 minutes walk from work. It is a market that I have been going to since I was a kid, that we shopped at when I lived in share houses and where I still shop when I get the opportunity. I thought I would tell you about the market during the day and during the summer night markets which have opened in the last few years.

The market was built in 1878 over part of Melbourne’s 1837-1854 cemetery. When the market expanded in the 1920s there were vigourous protests at the desecration of pioneer graves. In the 1970s the plans to demolish the market in the name of progress were passionately opposed. Today Melbourne has a thriving central colourful market with a huge indoor deli section and sheds full of fresh fruit and vegetables, sheds of cheap clothes and gifts, and the smelly meat and fish market that I always avoid.

By day, the deli, fruit and vegetable stalls open on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturdays. If you enter from Elizabeth Street you will first come through the indoor deli section full of counters of cheeses, olives, dips, breads, cakes, nuts etc. There are usually little tables of cheese tasting which helps you confront the endless cheese displays. I can recommend the watsonia cheddar and I have a soft spot for the colac cheese that we used to buy from the factory when I was a child. In the deli I often buy dense chewy loaves of sourdough and sometimes dips and falafels. One stalls sells divine olives stuffed with pesto. A great place to prepare for a picnic.

If you are hungry there is the falafel shop, some greasy takeaways and – if you eat meat – the best bratwurst sausage I ever had before I went vegetarian. You can get all sorts of cakes – as a student, friends of mine would come here just for the poppyseed scrolls. I recommend the bee-sting cake, especially if you have someone to share it with. There are tables and chairs outside the bratwurst shop where you can eat or be further tempted by the wonderful cheese and asparagus filled croissants of Le Croissants Les Halles. It is a lively place to sit and eat. If you can find a seat it is worth putting up with the buskers of questionable talent.

Colourful rows of all manner of fruit and vegetables assault your senses as you exit the deli towards Peel Street. On a hot day, the air is fragant with the smell of ripening fruit and vegetables. It is so different from the supermarket. Instead of asking questions of a spotty boy who is only concerned about pocket money for his itunes, you can discuss vegetables with people who care. If you gasp at the prices you can compare with other stalls to either find something cheaper or realize that it is a reasonable price. If you don’t like the size of the zucchinis or the state of the apples or what you want isn’t there, you move on to another stall. But when you get overwhelmed by the abundance of good food, it is good to have some favourite stalls to return to.

Walking about the fruit and vegetable sheds gives a good idea of what is suddenly trendy (kiwiberries), what is in season (fresh figs, mangos) and what is still only occasionally available because it is still considered exotic or odd (pomegranates, persimmons, dragonfruit, white carrots). Occasionally curiosity is a curse - as the prickly pears proved when I picked them up to inspect! And if you can’t decide there is the friendly rivalry between the stallholders who cry out for your custom – 'cheap as chips', 'very sweet cherries', 'dollar strawberries'.

A must-visit at the market is the hot jam donut van. I have been queuing since I was a child. We would get a big bag to share among the family. They have to be eaten hot as you stroll around the market. The crispy golden donuts are covered in sugar and have a soft yeasty interior and a surprise filling of hot jam that would dribble over your clothes and burn your tongue. I once went with friends who chose to go to the churros van instead which I found hard to understand. I still find the jam donuts hard to resist, even when the queues snake away from the van. These are the best jam donuts in the world.

The shop by the market I probably use the most, is Min Phat Asian Supermarket on Therry Street. It has every sort of noodle, flour, rice, dumpling, spice, sauce, dried legume I could need. In fact, it is full of lots of things I don’t need but I dream of cooking.

The market by day can be busy, especially on a Saturday morning. Shoppers and their trolleys crowd the aisles and are liable to stop suddenly when their attention is attracted by a pile of rosy apples, perfectly arranged green beans or glossy eggplants. But I can’t help joining the rabble, filling bags with produce, exchanging pleasantries with friendly stallholders, tasting cheeses and leaving with far more than I ever intended to buy.

By night, the Vic Market is a different place. I have been there on a ghost tour and it does have a spooky abandoned feel. But recently, some bright spark started a night market on Wednesdays. A few shed which are usually filled with general merchandise have food stalls down the side offering dinner, and the large space is filled with plastic tables and chairs and handcraft stalls.

This Wednesday was the last night market of summer and I managed to get along with E and my family. We were lucky to find a table because it was so busy. When I got my food, it took me forever to make my way through the crowd back to our table. My mum loves to share food and so I managed to eat my way through a selection of excellent dishes, without having to queue at every stall. Of course, I didn’t fancy my brother-in-law Steve’s crocodile burger, nor Andy and Erica’s sausages.

I didn’t get the proper names of a lot of dishes due to the crazy pace of the place. We started with some Ethiopian curries and a flat spongy bread. The curries were quite mild dahls – very mushy and comforting. Next was the vegie curry man’s Monsoon Wedding platter of vegie curry, rice, roti and two pakodas. This was very spicy but tasty. I liked watching them making the pakodas which were fried wedges of vegetables. Then I got two sweetcorn hotcakes (gluten-free) with tomato salsa, minted yoghurt sauce and guacamole. Delicious. Then came the sweets. We had to share some of the ubiquitous Dutch poffertjes (which Fran hadn’t tried but fell in love with).

Finally my dad and Andy went to the honey dumpling stall to get dumplings with chocolate sauce. Three bowls between the 8 of us was more than enough by this stage. They were golden fried balls with melted milk chocolate sauce over them. Absolutely delicious but we all decided we would prefer the jam donuts. (So you see my love of the jam donuts really is genetic!)

Once we were satiated by the food we wandered around the stalls. There were handbags, jewellery, clothes, African handcrafts, laughing witches to hang from the ceiling, dresses of vintage silk, bowls made of recycled magazines, tarot card readings, and fairy wings. Quiet different to the daytime wares. The atmosphere is festive with everyone relaxing as the night darkens and the stalls are lit up. Beers are carried about and people dance to the live music. We arrived home with a stash of baklava and fudge.

I am sending this post to A Scientist in the Kitchen for her event To Market To Market, which asks bloggers to share information about the markets where they love to shop for food.

Queen Victoria Market
Corner Elizabeth and Victoria Streets, Melbourne
Open Tues, Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun
Check website for opening times
Tel: (03) 9320 5822


  1. I could go for the bratwurst sausage and the bee sting cake sounds interesting...

  2. Ahhh, a trip through a market! Thank you for sharing! We have 2 small markets that I venture to but they are not near the extent of yours. We have one market that the owner sends his trucks to the mainland, 150 miles north, to bring us fresh and some organic goodies. The markets are what I miss most from living in a big city!
    All of the food looks delicious but oh that jam filled pastry...heavenly! And I like the looks on the 2 guys faces in your outdoor shot. Fun!

  3. Sounds like a wonderful, lively place. I love that the market is open in the evening and you can get dinner there. There are two major markets in downtown Toronto, but one is open only on Saturdays. The other, called Kensington Market, may very well be open in the evening, but it's been more than a decade since I was last there at night, so who knows?!

    Sounds like you and your family had quite the feast--everything looked delicious. Was the Ethiopian bread injera? YUM. And those donuts (both kinds) sounded delectable.

  4. That sounds like a wonderful place and I love all the different foods you got to try.

  5. thanks Gay - if a vegetarian recommends the bratwurst you know they are good :-) so is the bee sting - lots of custard!

    thanks Deb - we are lucky to have the queen vic - but there are smaller markets all around melbourne that are fantastic too - will try and post on a few when I get my act together and visit them! Small can be friendly and less overwhelming. I just know the queen vic better.

    thanks Ricki - the vic market is indeed wonderfully lively - I am lucky it is near work or I would struggle to ever get there! So I understand that you don't get to your markets regularly.

    thanks Katie - the food is pretty amazing - esp the night market - and it is great with a group to taste lots of things.

  6. SO wish we had something even half this amazing nearby. Lucky lucky you.

  7. thanks Wendy - we are lucky - I missed the queen vic market when I lived in Edinburgh

  8. This sounds like a most wonderful market (I LOVE markets, they are my favourite places to shop).

    Strange to see poffertjes there though. I fell in love with the little delights when I was living in Holland but would not have expected you to encounter them on the other side of the globe.
    Then again,what with Dutch travelers and ex colonies in Indonesia, I suppose they would come around...

  9. thanks SpacedLaw - markets are so much more enjoyable places to shop than supermarkets - and it is weird that poffertjes seem to always appear on street stalls and festivals - in fact they even are selling poffertje pans in kitchen stores now!


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