One of the real delights when visiting Melbourne’s CBD is to spend time at the colourful, cheap and centrally located Queen Victoria Market.
While up here in South-East Queensland we have plenty of smaller farmers markets, trash-n-treasures or even the impressive Eumundi Market, we really have nothing that even approaches the sprawling Vic Market – with its vast arrays of fresh fruit, vegetables, gourmet delicatessen lines, all sorts of meats, cut-price clothing, shoes, decorative household and personal items, gifts, treats and knick-knacks – spread over an area equal to several city blocks.
With its range of permanent and temporary stalls – some indoor, some semi-outdoor and others fully outdoor – the Vic Market offers something shopping malls and suburban strips cannot: organic, eclectic, cosmopolitan and sometimes unique purchases at bargain basement prices spiced with the sounds of spruikers drumming up business as they tout their wares.
It’s not hard to understand why the market is so popular with students, families, pensioners and the budget-conscious as well as those wanting something just that little bit different.
Open weekends and three shorter days during the week, the Vic Market attracts people of all ages and backgrounds. It pays to wear comfortable shoes and to consider hiring one of its handy wire shopping trolleys if you want to spend up big.
A Queenslander by birth, I lived for eight years from my mid-20s with my Melbourne-born partner in Victoria’s capital city and a trip to the Vic Market was pretty much a weekly event for us. In Melbourne for a big family occasion last week, we managed to squeeze in three separate visits to the Vic Market over six days.
Our first was on our way into town from Castlemaine, to scope out the market’s Tuesday offerings, which features fewer stallholders than on the weekends, but is still certainly worth exploring before lunch.
While my partner’s favourite belt-seller was nowhere to be found on this occasion, we did a general walk around the open-sided covered aisles to re-familiarise ourselves, noting a few items we thought were good value and picking up a couple of birthday gifts at reasonable prices. We saved a visit to the legendary food hall for a later visit.
As we passed by the outside of the food hall, we marvelled at not only the stunning array of cut flowers available to purchase but also at their incredibly inexpensive prices that would allow most people to fill their homes with fresh blooms every week! Two lovely bunches of six roses, one half dozen red and the other a bi-coloured red and cream, re-wrapped together, set me back just $12.
Then, before we dashed off to a pre-planned lunch downtown, we made sure we visited the one place we ALWAYS visit when in Melbourne, the nearby London & American Stores just 30m towards town from the market itself at 483-485 Elizabeth St.
At this well-stocked shop – that trades 9am-5pm Monday to Friday, Saturdays 8am-1pm and Sundays 11am-3pm – you’ll find a smorgasbord of kitchenware and cooking supplies, the latest handy gadgets and useful kitchenware as well as a myriad tiny devices to help you create that special dish. Its knowledgable staff also sell a full range of chef’s supplies and cookware, including full-sized shot and long-handled pizza paddles for use in outside pizza ovens.
Around since the Vic Market itself started in 1878, the London & American Stores has no equivalent here in Queensland (although Taste in James St, Fortitude Valley, looks like it’s trying).
Our second flying visit to Vic Market was on Friday, when we sussed out more bargains, including a well-fitting leather jacket for my partner (a steal at $145, probably would have cost around $400+ in Brisbane), as well as a stall selling three beautiful pashminas for $25. One can never have enough pashminas, dahlings, and I’ve not seen quality ones for much under $35 each in Brisbane. As they were closing, I made a mental note to revisit the stall when we returned the following morning for some serious bargain-hunting.
This proved to be a good strategy because, on Saturday – probably the market’s busiest day of the week – I found four of them for the same price!
Any Saturday visit to the Vic Market would never be complete for us without my partner having a freshly cooked bratwurst on a french roll from the deli end of the meat, seafood and dairy hall (located on the Elizabeth St side of the market).
This building is probably my favourite Vic Market destination because it has dozens of busy vendors selling the most exotic range of fresh and imported cheeses; every kind of fresh, dried or processed meat you can think of; an impressive array of traditional and specialist breads; sweets, cakes and specialty treats; dips, pates and delicious items for any mezze/antipasto platter; and so many ready-to-eat warm delights from around the world.
If you follow a Mediterranean diet, this place is Nirvana!
My choice on this visit was a piping hot, $3 tasty lamb and onion borek, a decent-sized Turkish flatbread snack that was baked flat in an on-site oven. Gozlemes are also a favourite on offer at the Borek shop.
On two of our three visits to the Vic Markets we opted to use the all-day carpark without incident. We even left the car there and walked to the other end of town to meet a friend for lunch on the Friday. That is what is great about Melbourne’s CBD layout. The topography is almost flat and orderly, so walking – or grabbing a tram – is just so easy.
If only I’d remembered to buy myself a Myki card (for use on Melbourne’s public transport), we might have tried out the trams on this trip. Oh well, next time.
Last week’s three return visits reminded us both just how much Brisbane needs something akin to the bustling, cheery and competitive retail heaven of Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market. We can only dream.
Queen Victoria Market trading hours:
Tuesdays: 6am-2pm (many non-food stalls will pack up a bit earlier, especially in cooler months or poor weather)
Thursdays: 6am-2pm (ditto)
Fridays*: 6am-5pm (general merchandise 4pm, but many stall-holders began packing up around 2pm)
* In the warmer months, Friday night’s Suzuki Night Market features 200 stalls, including a number of Asian hawker-style food vendors.
Parking: On-site all-day paid parking, on-street metered parking around market’s perimeter, plus several paid parking stations within walking distance
Foodies tour: Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays (except public holidays). Check QVM website for details.
Words: Trina McLellan
Pictures: Trina McLellan (iPhone 4S)