There are few more vibrant places I’ve visited than the Queen Victoria Markets of Melbourne. Better known as the Vic Markets. It’s vibrant, it’s vivacious, and it’s cosmopolitan. All of this draws me inexorably to the hustling, bustling confluence of locals and tourists, and of diverse cultures.
I am always drawn to markets. One of my most cherished memories of my student exchange in France is of the Sunday markets in the town square. Everyone seemed to come out of the woodwork, and the sleepy centre would become a loud, colourful place.
The Vic Markets are truly something special. There was an abundance of cheerful hubbub and colour even on Tuesday morning.
Dad and I decided to get the full Melbourne experience, and catch the bus and tram in.
Everyone uses Melbourne’s public transport. The smartly dressed business people in suits with gleaming laptops on their knees, the parents wrangling innumerable children, the book-lugging university students, the completely and utterly inebriated, the tourists with their oh-so inevitable camera (me).
We could’ve caught the bus the whole way in, but I’m in love with Melbourne trams and couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Plus in the CBD there is a free tram zone.
We hopped off the crowded tram and saw the gates of heaven… well, actually they were the gates of the Queen Victoria Markets.
There are four major parts to the Vic Markets: the fresh produce, the deli hall, the meat hall, and the arts and crafts, clothes, and other goods.
We stepped into the meat hall and immediately we heard the barrages of vendors yelling their best deals at the top of their lungs, saw them waving their signs “Aussie BBQ Beef Sausages 2kg for $10”, “Bags of Bones $1”. Each of them trying to convince us that they have the best deals, the best steak, the best sausages, the best ribs, the best of the best.
Along the way we saw steaks, chops, sausages, ribs, and the rest of the usual suspects. The more surprising were the lamb heads and beef tongues. The more identifiable body parts such as these tickle my curiosity but not my taste buds.
Our meandering adventure leads us next to the fresh fruit and veggies. The summer berries were the first to catch my eye. The vivid red strawberries with their rich green tops, the vibrant raspberries with their soft gold hair, the deep blue-y purple blueberries and the almost-black blackberries. So irresistibly fresh and delicious. We ended up buying a few boxes for dessert.
There were the pineapples, whole, regal and prickly. Melons of more varieties than I knew existed. Tomatoes of every size and shape piled high.
There were red apples, green apples, yellow apples, and mixtures thereof piled precariously on tilted tabletops. Waxed exteriors glistening, or matte skins boasting ultimate freshness and crunch. Deep purple onions, green, yellow, and red capsicums. Dark purple eggplants with bright green hats.
Loose leaf greens piled up: spinach, kale, lettuce, beetroot greens, rocket and more, interspersed with herbs of every shade of green. Row upon row of boxes housed bulk buy spices. Some red, some brown, some yellow, black, grey, orange. Mountains of fine grains, full of mouth-watering flavour.
Ostentatious pink dragon fruits, their pink and green flaps making them look ever so like their namesake. Thick-skinned coconuts, some cut open to reveal the tender white flesh and milk.
Next up, the arts and crafts, the souvenirs, the clothes, the shoes, the random odds and sods. Wandering the many aisles, along with all the other market goers we saw fairy dresses, running shoes, kitchen utensils, rainbow bangles, carpets, paintings and drawings on paper, canvas, glass, rock, bark, and wood. Caricatures, boomerangs, soft toys, signed AFL photos, didgeridoos, notebooks, and banksia scent pots.
As our stomachs rumbled, we headed over to the deli hall, where all kinds of antipastos are sold, alongside cheeses, breads, drinks, deli meats, and lunch foods. Dad and I both chose lamb boreks. Warm, spicy lamb-filled pastry. Perfect after a morning wandering aisle upon aisle of delicious food.
To top it off, we grabbed great coffee from Market Lane Coffee, a very cute, modern coffee place tucked into the end of one of the deli hall aisles.
With full tummies, we headed back into the foray and bought ingredients for that night’s dinner. One of the many joys of having family in Melbourne is that we have a kitchen we can play in. That night it was to us to make dinner for six. Antipastos, crumbed lamb cutlets, roast winter vegies, and fresh summer berries. And finally, freshly made pralines from a little street cart.
The people make the market an interesting and vivacious place as much as the goods. The busking musicians, the boisterous storeholders yelling out their best deals like fishwives, the regulars lugging bags of groceries, the eager (and not-so eager) stall owners, those restocking the stalls from mountains of cardboard boxes, the tourists gawking at all the beautiful scenes.
I loved watching the different ways people interacted with the goods. Some people were all in there, squeezing avocados, digging for the perfect apple, sniffing herbs. Others were more withdrawn, and preferred to look and not to touch. Some would chat for ages with the vendors, whilst others would quickly get it over with.
The Vic markets are a smorgasbord of cultures. There are a massive variety of cuisines on offer, and ingredients to suit. There are people from every corner of the globe, all united by one powerful force: the markets.