When Jude and I first made the announcement that we were giving up our quiet, peaceful life in Adelaide to move to the big smoke of Melbourne one of our good friends, Mitch, gave us a very generous farewell gift, bless his broken hip.
Rather than a predictable South Aussie bottle of wine (which still would have been much appreciated) he bought us a Hunt and Gather Food Tour gift voucher for the Queen Victoria Market. Needless to say, I was super excited given how much I love food, and how much I love markets.
Although the excitement obviously got lost in between the gazillion moving boxes because 11 months on, facing the prompt expiry of said voucher, we decided it was time to haul our hungover* selves up to the top end of town and be escorted around Melbourne’s iconic Queen Victoria Market.
* The day before our Hunt and Gather Food Tour was the last day of my previous job, so I’d had too many celebratory drinks the night before. But given I worked on my own in Melbourne for a Sydney-based company, instead of catching the private charter *cough* to Sydney for some farewell drinks with colleagues, Jude and I drank champagne in our living room whilst watching Taylor Swift film clips, falling asleep at 11pm. Which sounds really sad when said out loud…
Conclusively, I’m very happy that we didn’t let our farewell present get whisked away to gift voucher heaven because I learnt some wonderfully useful facts about Melbourne’s oldest surviving market (yep, ka-ching, fact right there). Here are some more:
Useful fact #1: Queen Victoria Market was not Melbourne’s first market
While it may be Melbourne’s favourite child today, Queen Victoria Market wasn’t the city’s first market to sprout up through the Hoddle Grid. Established in 1878, Queen Victoria Market was actually Melbourne’s third born, preceded by the Western Market (est 1841) and the Eastern Market or Paddy’s Market (est 1847). Both of which were located on either sides of the city (in case their names didn’t give them away) and closed in the 1960s, unable to compete with the popularity of the all-mighty Queen Victoria Market.
Now one of Melbourne’s top city attractions, the Queen Victoria Market spans across two city blocks, and is built partially on the grounds of Melbourne’s first official cemetery, which seems a health and safety issue to me. It’s ordered into a hop-potch, grown-over-time collection of meat, delicatessen, retail, and fruit and veg vendors; selling everything from kangaroo and offal to organic eggs and coffee to jewellery and flowers.
Useful fact #2: Who needs Moses and his staff when a duck umbrella will suffice
Our Hunt and Gather Food Tour guide, Beverley, was full of energy and fun, and brilliant at keeping us on track for the two-hour tour. But at five-foot tall, easy to spot in the crowded market she was not. Not that this was a problem. At the start of the tour, she told us to look out not for her head but her duck head umbrella.
A little slow to catch on with my pounding head, I muttered to Jude, “What?! We’re indoors. I no comprehendo.”
But this was clearly not Bev’s first rodeo as she zipped through the busy market amusingly holding her duck head umbrella high in the air, parting the crowds like Moses and making her easy to spot. She was also incredibly knowledgeable on all things Queen Victoria Market, giving us an in-depth history spiel, and pointing out original 1878 timber beams and columns (among other tasty historical morsels).
Useful fact #3: You can never have too many types of sausages
A vegetarian’s nightmare, the Meat Hall is overflowing with meat, meat and more meat, all of which is carted in at 12:30am each day via the hook and rail system visible on the roof. During this process the building’s thermostat is lowered to 4°C.
In this gluttony of meat, you’ll also find sausages. Lots and lots of sausages at Thompson Meat. Twenty-four shades of gluten-free sausage to be exact; made up of exotic sweet chilli plum, pork and fennel and Thai basil chilli and coriander combinations, along with your tried and true chorizo and herb and garlic favourites.
Useful fact #4: Bunnies to gummies
A lot of the fishmongers at the Queen Victoria Market today used to be rabbit sellers, until calicivirus decimated Victoria’s rabbit population in 1997. For some fifth-generation traders, facing a life away from the markets was impossible; instead they chose to diversify and quickly learn the art of buying and selling seafood.
I am very grateful they did, taking home a bagful of garlic prawns, oysters and octopus.
Useful fact #5: Doughnuts should be considered a major food group
I love a good jam doughnut, and American Doughnut Kitchens’ sugar-encrusted fried balls of gooey goodness are pretty damn delicious. The super popular doughnut business is run out of the back of a van, which was originally built in 1950 when two friends, Arnold Bridges, a confectioner, and Dave Christie, a fitter and turner, decided to join forces and turn their hand to doughnut-making.
You can find the American Doughnut Kitchens’ van parked on Queen Street, at the top end of Shed I. Just get in quick before you devastatingly see the ‘sold out’ sign.
Useful fact #6: Did someone say FREE parking?
Anyone saying the f-word always gets my attention, so no wonder my foggy brain absorbed this detail. If you enter and exit the market car park (access is via Franklin or Queen streets) between 6am–10am on all market days (see below), excluding Saturday when it’s between 6am–8am, parking is FREE. Get on it!
Useful Fact #7: A Hunt and Gather Food Tour is a great way to learn about the Queen Victoria Market
If you don’t know anything about the Queen Victoria Market, or are new to Melbourne, a Hunt and Gather Food Tour is a great way to meet the stallholders and learn your way around the market, so that next time you visit you’ll be able to get your educated market face on and battle the crowds like a pro. It’s also a surprisingly interesting history lesson, with the Queen Victoria Market sharing a colourful past.
Plus as a Hunt and Gather Food Tour participant we were given eight stomach-satisfying samples, including some delicious freshly-cooked pasta from The Traditional Pasta Shop, a breath freshening spice from Gewürzhaus in the Deli Hall** and a coffee to take-away from Market Espresso, which was marvellous for Harry the Hangover.
** The Deli Hall opened in 1929 in all its beautiful Art Deco grandeur, with marble-top counters and windows facing the south to keep the building and bench tops as cold as possible pre-aircon. That’s a bonus fact for free!
Queen Victoria Market
Corner of Victoria and Elizabeth streets, Melbourne
Open Tuesday and Thursday 6am–2pm, Friday 6am–5pm, Saturday 6am–3pm and Sunday 9am–4pm
Cost of a Queen Victoria Market Hunt and Gather Food Tour: $49 per person