Thursday, December 23, 2010
I never go to markets late. Having been to the wholesale market at as early as four in the morning in Kuala Lumpur taught me why early birds catch the fattest, juiciest worms. We arrived at Queen Victoria Market after lunch due to the late night before at Lygon Street, the inevitable late morning rising and further delays around Melbourne CBD before finally hopping on a cab there. I thought I would be greatly disappointed but oh boy, it was a great Sunday afternoon.
There was no worry of not getting the freshest produce as there was no time for me to do any real cooking despite having a great apartment with a full kitchen. Our busy itinerary didn’t even allow me to run away with those juicy mangoes (they cost about twice in Singapore) or those shiny cherries.
The rhubarbs were whispering "crumble", the grapefruits "pound cake", the fat leeks "quiche" and the fresh herbs "salad" but what could I do?
We found ourselves in beautiful Melbourne (yes, I’ve picked up the phrase from our Virgin Blue flights, not that Melbourne is any less than beautiful) primarily for the performance of a bunch of hot, old Irish men. Making the most of our trip, I planned out all our food escapades and was informed that I must visit this amazing market or I’ll be damned.
The general retail store stocked a variety of goods from clothing to decorating knick knacks. After that there are actually two sections of fresh produce in the market, one dedicated to organic sources across the street, which we missed during the first trip. Every item at each of the fruits and vegetable stall was plump, perky, vibrant and inviting.
Greens were mostly propped up instead of laid flat to display their maximum glory and attract attention. I noticed how some sellers carefully arranged their produce according to the color wheel and not lump similarly colored items together – red, orange, yellow, green. I was glad I didn’t bring a marketing bag with me… ten wouldn't have been sufficient.
At the end of the fresh produce section was a stall selling live poultry, complete with chicks and eggs. I couldn't take any photos of it because there was a big sign hung on one of the chicken cages saying "Photography strictly not allowed". I don't think Vijay and I with our two huge DSLRs would make a good impression on the owner so we quickly move on.
There was no shortage of peddling shouts from the sellers, something which I miss greatly while marketing in Singapore. The peddling songs were not only informative; they lifted the mood and brought liveliness to the market. Even younger traders helped out with the business, while munching on a cucumber.
Vijay went about the perimeter of the market while I proceeded to the meat and fish section. There the peddling orchestra was in full force as butchers and mongers fight to sell off their products before closing time. Some deals were sweet while some others bargained down to the last dollar.
One elderly woman was asked to name her price for this piece of fish after she shook her head at the offered number. She was then exasperatedly told “Lady, this is a SNAPPER!” Needless to say, the snapper steak went back to its display shelf.
The red meats were pink and seafood smelling of de la mer. Not a single foul odor was detected, the isles between the stalls clean and dry. This was new to me. Anyone who markets in Malaysia and Singapore regularly would have had some level of practice to hold their breath at certain intervals and undesirable, bloody patches. I went in a skirt and a pair of flip flops. In KL and Singapore I would need Phua Chu Kang’s Wellingtons.
The marinara mix was genius and the size of those fresh scallops almost made me ask for a bag but I told myself "No!" and soldiered on to the delicatessens section.
Here was the area of ‘everything else’ to make that fabulous meal. Shops selling jamon, cured meats, salami and sausages, condiments and dips, all types of cheeses, basic pantry items, chocolates, nuts and grains, dried fruits and spices are interlaced with stalls selling desserts, cakes and freshly baked bread. This area was quieter compared to the adjacent meat and fish part of the block due to the non-existent need to peddle.
From one of the chocolate shops I got myself a kilo of dark Callebaut chocolate, cocoa nibs, Mexican spiced cocoa and some French soft nougat. I haven't really figured out where in Singapore to get Callebaut and want to try it after baking for so long with Valrhona.
Oh, will you just look at those lamingtons! Aaarrrrghhhh!
A corner shop sold tea and every imaginable design of teapots vintage or modern. I hung around the shop for quite sometime, mentally calculating if the price of some of those pots available in Singapore were cheaper there. They were not, so my return baggage was free from the threat unnecessary fragile items (for now).
Several stalls provided quick meals (burgers, schnitzels, kebabs, mini pizzas, pies) and coffee. We got ourselves some bratwursts and a couple of cannolis to be enjoyed with our java fix outside alongside the ever friendly pigeons.
Within the premises of the market was also a pleasant food court which provides international flavors.
There was a Malaysian Chinese fast food, Italian, Middle Eastern and Indian. We ate here when we came back for a second visit on our final day in Melbourne, a week later. My bowl of curry laksa, two springrolls and a bottle of orange juice came to AUD17.50 but it had to happen.
It was amazing to see the people of Melbourne come in droves daily to this iconic heritage for good quality produce. Everything was gorgeous and the shops well organized. The warmth and buzzing excitement of the atmosphere just made us long to return to it often.
Now let's come to the ironic part of the story.
I have been going on and on about how I didn't buy anything for the fear of not having time to cook. It turned out that I actually did, the very same night. After the market closed (we were practically there till the guys who came to tidy up the eating area finished stacking up all the chairs except ours), we decided that I wasn't going to join Vijay's next program. I ended up cooking a lamb chop dinner complete with baked potatoes and greens on the side with produces from the IGA supermarket behind our East Melbourne apartment.
It would've been difficult to get the vegetables for two from the market but at the very least I could've gotten the meat. It was just not meant to be. When we moved to North Melbourne after coming back from out of town on a road trip (more on that next time), we lived three tram stops away from the market. On one of the tram rides back to our apartment along Peel Street, I spotted the famous churros truck, which we couldn't find during both our visits.
That was my last glimpse of the market before we left for Sydney the next morning. Its endearing qualities, sights and smells which engaged all senses left us beautiful memories, as we quickly learned the rest of Melbourne also did.
Merry Christmas everyone!
This is the first of a few more travel series documenting our recent trip to Australia. I hope this makes up for my long disappearance. No, I haven't cooked a thing since we came back, but a big turkey is brining away in the fridge right now. Lots of love!
Life Is Great explores the incredible world of food and cooking. We hope to share with you our most delicious moments and inspirations.
“Just like becoming an expert in wine–you learn by drinking it, the best you can afford–you learn about great food by finding the best there is, whether simply or luxurious. The you savor it, analyze it, and discuss it with your companions, and you compare it with other experiences.”
Julia Child (Mastering the Art of French Cooking)
“Life is short. Live your dream and share your passion.”
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- Hong Kong Part I
- Australia 2010 Part 1: Melbourne
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- Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne