Wallaby, Kangaroo, Crocodile, Octopus?
Melbourne, Australia - Down under, sunrise comes after 7 a.m. on an autumn morning in May. As mega-jet lagged American travelers know, it's up and at 'em early. I'm off to spend Saturday morning at Melbourne's much-loved Queen Victoria Market, as folks have done since 1878. Excited to visit with the pros from Foodies' Dream Tour, I hop aboard the Elizabeth Street tram to arrive at the western edge of the Central Business District, known as CBD in these parts.
Bring your appetite and wear closed toe shoes to be prepared to get up close and personal with throngs of local shoppers. It's that crowded. Melbourne is Australia's second most populated city and it seems that they're all here at Vic Market. Actually, that's just as well, judging from the enormous quantity of fresh food for sale from the Victorian structure covering two city blocks. Bring a camera, as you'll also be getting close to fishmongers' and butchers' wares such as octopus and wallaby, among the more unusual sights for overseas visitors. You won't see anything pre-packaged nor a hint of plastic wrap.
Sizing it up
When Australians describe something as "big", you know they're not kidding. And when it comes to open-air food markets, the Queen Vic takes the cake as largest in the Southern Hemisphere. This is more than a shopping mecca. For Melburnians, it's the heart and soul of their city where 1,000 traders sell the exotic and the mundane. Focus on the acres of food halls filled with extraordinary displays of fresh meat, fish, deli and produce, but take a pass on the fairly uninteresting clothing and souvenir stalls under the adjacent tents.
Meet, greet, eat
For the best initiation on the market's past, present and future, to explore the stalls, meet some vendors and sample their goods, a small group tour is just the ticket. My Foodies' Dream Tours guide greeted her guests with tote bags filled with paper plates and forks for a two hour gastronomic sampling spree.
After a brief history lesson, we entered the refrigerated meat and fish hall where I counted 10 busy fishmonger stalls showing today's catch glistening on ice. Enormously high ceilings crowned with south-facing windows (remember, such things are the other way around down under) were designed to keep out direct sunlight. However, nothing mutes the rich accented shout outs of vendors extolling the virtues of their myriad crustaceans. Beyond the fish stalls, meat hall vendors exhibit what appears to be more sausages than in all of Bavaria.
Eyes and stomachs
Carry on past original marble-topped counters, up and down dozens of aisles sampling rotisserie chicken, creamy and hard cheeses, pungent olives, tasty hummus dips. After a generous plate of pasta washed down with a local Yarra Valley wine tasting session, you needn't fear that your guide will overlook Melbourne's famous chocolatiers and coffee specialists. Not a chance.
Plan your visit
Book in advance for a Foodies' Dream Tour or one of the market's other four tours. Queen Victoria Market is open five days a week onTuesdays and Thursdays from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Fridays from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturdays from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. If your jet lag kicks in later, visit the Night Market under the lights with street food and music on Wednesdays from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. for two winter months (July and August) and five summer months (November through March).
Queen Victoria Market are located at 513 Elizabeth Street in Melbourne, Victoria, 3000 Australia. Tel: +61 3 9320 5830