Melbourne's superior market

Without getting into the Sydney-Melbourne rivalry, the Queen Victoria Market's diverse and unusual offerings trounce anything Sydney's markets can offer.

Australia's most popular food blogger Not Quite Nigella, aka Lorraine Elliott, stopped by Melbourne's Queens Victoria Market for a guided tour.

I don’t wish to ignite the Sydney versus Melbourne debate. I think you know that as a Sydney born and bred gal I’d instinctively defend Sydney but that’s not to say that I don’t fully appreciate the beauty and splendour of Melbourne. And if the weather were warmer I would perhaps be living there right now. One thing that I don’t ever bother arguing with is the brilliance of Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Markets. We have nothing like this in the middle of Sydney. The Queen Victoria Markets are in the heart of the city of Melbourne and it is where you can find some of the most diverse, unusual and freshest ingredients in one place. And Mr NQN and I were about to embark on a guided tour!

Started 132 years ago, the 1000 plus stalls stretch across an eight hectare property. There is the closed building which we’re standing in front of and then the more outdoor area housing the fruit and vegetables. Four thousand people work here on a Saturday and every year 10.5 million visitors come here. It is one of the top Melbourne city attractions.

We enter the meat area and there are three stands that sell all free range produce with most of the produce in Victoria (with some kangaroo from South Australia). We pass another stand where our guide Carmel tells us that they have expanded their offal section. There are dark red plucks (the sheep heart and lungs) which are popular around Greek Orthodox Easter where shopkeepers will stockpile a thousand of these. There’s lamb’s tongues, heart and mini marrows for $1, lamb’s brains for $1.50 each as well as beef tongues with the tastebuds still visible some with a black underside to them.

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Most of the pork sold is from female pigs (meat from male pigs are said to have a distinct odour to it). Carmel tells us that at midnight to 2am they cool down the entire meat section and the meat luggers enter at 2am and hoist the meat up on the hook and rail system and deliver it to the various stalls. At 3am the butchers enter and do their work.

We then move onto a gourmet sausage stand which are all gluten free using rice flour instead. "What’s your most popular flavour?” Carmel asks. "10 kgs of each!” the owner replies laughing. The most popular is the lamb and rosemary and the lamb and garlic along with pork & fennel and chorizo. In Summer, sales triple for the sausages.

Prices for meats are quite amazingly good. At Quality Meats eye fillet is $24.99 a kilo and aged porterhouse steak is $20 a tray which has seven large steaks on it.

People glide by in their rented shopping trolleys and there is also an organic butcher where most of the meat comes from Victoria except for chickens which come from Queensland. Some butchers here specialise in one area of Victoria.

Many of these stands are family run businesses and the Chitty family that run Happy Tuna originally dealt with rabbits but with the disease scare of 1970 they branched out to seafood. Carmel tells us that this is one of the most popular stands for Melbourne chefs. We stand below their custom ice chipping machine that constantly produces chips of ice to be rained down onto the fish.

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We stop by the seafood and oyster spot where Yanni and George charm customers with their personalities and fresh seafood. We try a half dozen juicy, enormous freshly shucked before our eyes Coffin Bay oysters with lemon. They slide down the throat with a shimmer. Yanni is a personality and has been on TV many times – he’s effervescent and a natural. On a Saturday morning, they easily sell 300 dozen of these babies. I feel an arm around me and it’s Yanni "I’m making you jealous huh?” he says to Mr NQN. Carmel tells us that when she has school groups she asks him to run down the hall with an octopus to scare the kids. Funnily enough, the school kids have become much more enthusiastic with the proliferation of cooking shows on television and now show a clear interest in the profession.

We walk into the deli building which is now a National trust protected Art Deco design building. Originally built to sell butter and cheese the windows were built to face South to keep things cool. Back then there were fourteen butter and cheese stalls and today there remains one butter specialist. The rest are deli items. Interestingly some of the bigger brands started here such as Tibaldi smallgoods, Perfect cheese and Herbert Adams. And how do the stall-holders get in and out? Why through this little door of course! And this is also where deliveries and garbage go in and out too.

We pass by Andrews bakery where they access breads from 18 different bakeries and make New York style bagels.

This is an abridged version of the original blog post. To read on click here.