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Uncovering the Secrets of Queen Victoria Market

Home > Melbourne > Food and Wine | Free | Markets
by Lionel (subscribe)
Join me as I travel, play, eat, live and work in cities and places around the world.
Published June 14th 2012
I was catching up with a friend residing in Canada on work matters and we got talking about family, life, travels and unexpectedly about markets. He told me Toronto's St. Lawrence Market was ranked as the world's best food market by National Geographic recently. Being biasedly American, he couldn't believe New York's Union Square Greenmarket came in second. Being biasedly a QVM-mer (a term I coined for fans of Queen Victoria Market), I couldn't believe the iconic market of Melbourne was not even in National Geographic's top 10!

The magazine's praise of Toronto's market doesn't explain much except "Redeveloped between the 1970s and 1990s after long neglect, the area's mix of homes and businesses showcases urban regeneration". Granted the market which currently houses more than 120 vendors, a farmers' market and an antique market was founded in 1803 and served as city hall at one point in its history, and their peameal bacon sandwiches, St.Urbain bagels, Kozlick's mustard and gluten free brownies are heavily touted by locals.

Its regal name spoken on the lips of people living in or visiting Melbourne, QVM is in no way a pale shadow of St. Lawrence Market. Far from mundane, QVM is rich with historical, architectural and social significance to the State of Victoria and Melburnians.
Elizabeth Street side of Queen Victoria Market

A grand dame of 134 years, QVM is the living record of Melbourne's rich and evolving history. She was born to the populace a primary wholesale market and supplier of fresh produce in the 19th century. As the city grew so did she mature to reflect the functional changes and embraced tourists and leisure shoppers, while retaining the vibrancy of a produce market wrapped in the large utilitarian fabric of 19th and early 20th century architecture and street facades. The trading and retail enterprise contained within her bodice of food halls, shops and stalls provides continuity in market activity and significant linkage between 19th and 21st century Melbourne. Today, she reigns as the only surviving central market built by the City of Melbourne and one of the great 19th century markets of Australia.

More than just steel and mortar of over a century, QVM reflects the social and cultural fabric of Melbourne. It is not only an important shopping and meeting place for locals and tourists but an icon for generations of Victorians and Melburnians who prohibited her redevelopment during the 1970s. Lionel's Melbourne would surely wane without her royal company for I'd realised she was much dearer to me.

QVM is my Kitchen

The Mushroom Man of QVM

She never ceases to amaze me with her cornucopia of fresh seasonal produce to tantalise my recipe book.
The occasional sea urchin on sale
Her autumn and winter fare of eggplant, Fuji apple, fennel, Packham pear, sweet potato, mushroom, honeydew and pumpkin in the Fruit and Vegetable precinct provide simple produce for gastronomic delights on their own or paired with the juicy meats or the sweet seafood available in the Meat Hall to create an assortment of cuisines.

A stroll down the art deco Deli Hall allows me to draw from counters of delicatessen to create a rich paddle laden with Sicilian olives, Spanish salami, English blood sausages, French duck a la orange pate, Australian triple cream brie, Turkish Borek and African smoked salmon. The game meats including rabbit, kangaroo and crocodile provide the welcomed quirkiness to everyday recipes.

Collage of delicatessen in the Deli Hall


QVM is about Affordable Produce

Cheese galore in the Deli Hall

QVM is a best food market. She is the everyman's supermarket for fresh meat, seafood, vegetables and fruits at affordable prices that would make thrift queen Cath Armstrong perk up. And I'm not talking about 3 slabs of cheeses for AUD10 although I love the King's Island triple cream blue, Tasmania double cream brie and Jindi 18 month aged cheddar combination.

Cheap fruits and vegetables in QVM

If you subscribe to Cath Armstrong's budget-stretching tips for feeding your family of 4 on AUD80 a week as reported on Channel Nine's "A Current Affair" then you'll be thrilled to know that QVM can provide you with ingredients for delicious and healthy meals for a fraction of that AUD80 spend in supermarkets. Just walk the aisle of the market on any day and you'll be amazed at the regular low prices. A kilo of potatoes at AUD2.35 in the supermarkets is often available at less than AUD1; AUD2 for a whole cabbage the size of an adult's head; AUD1 for a bunch of 3 Bok Choys; crispy royal gala apples at AUD1 per kilo; 7 cuts of lightly marbled porterhouse steak for AUD15; live mussels at AUD6 a kilo; and 8 pork-filled gourmet sausages for AUD7. The seasonal daily sale will surely appease folks adamant about even lower prices with a kilo of onions at AUD0.50; honeydew at AUD0.99 each; bananas for AUD1 per kilo; 10 pork chops for AUD10 and 6 steak-size cuts of swordfish at AUD10.

Cheap meats in QVM

I should speak to the publishers about my own book of 100 recipes using produce from QVM that will help people eat healthy while saving thousands on their annual grocery bills.

QVM is a Slice of Melbourne Life

A microcosm of life in Melbourne, QVM is a 134 year old tradition engrained within the cultures and communities gathering to shop, eat, play and work.

Ms Misti Dullard, the Marketing Manager of QVM shares my love for the Market. She believes the Market is the true meeting place and multicultural hub of Melbourne. There is nothing pretentious about the Market and its where people of all walks of life congregate. We can trace the evolution of Melbourne by looking into the trading history of the Market. As one of the country's great traditional working Markets, she has a history steeped in culture and tradition.

Hot doughnuts filled with raspberry jam and rolled in sugar

Nested warmly in the hearts of Victorians and Melburnians, this old world charm embraces 10 million visitors a year who enjoy a bag of hot jam donuts or freshly grilled bratwurst and sauerkraut on a warm bread roll while partaking the eye-banquet of fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, handcrafted Australian goods, organic products, souvenirs, clothes, shoes and hardware products.

Live poultry and farm fresh eggs in QVM

Misti enjoys just standing around and taking in the vibrant melting pot of people in the Market - the busker on Therry Street plaza playing to the crowd, the 'suit' eating freshly shucked oysters in the laneway for his lunch, the tourists enjoying the playful banter of the traders. She feels it evokes a sense of organised chaos but it all works so harmoniously.

QVM is alive. The market sheds form her body but the daily ebb and flow of people along her arterial walkways are her lifeblood. She beats with boisterous discounts of seafood and meats and mirth of conversations between patrons and stall holders. She is home to more than 1,000 merchants and vendors who reflect the attitudes and ethics of a people who work hard and still find the time to smile and joke with customers and each other.

Smiles all around for cheaper than Sydney Fish Markets' Coffin Bay oysters

Misti explains that the Market is one of Melbourne's most significant small business incubators where many businesses which began their journey in her bosom, still remain today. So visitors are not only getting the bargains and atmosphere that the Market is so renowned for but they are also getting the service and advice unavailable in supermarkets and department stores. They include several 2nd and 3rd generation of family businesses who make interesting people and conversations. Pharmacist John Hurlston who has accompanied the Market for over 36 years gave me a French, Italian and Spanish gastronomic prescription for good health. Makes me wonder if every merchant in the Market is a foodie.

QVM is not a place you visit once. The merchants' passion about what they do, their stories, the friendly customer service, fair prices and smorgasbord of tasty delights welcome you to return over and over again. So much so that I visit every time I'm in Melbourne. Although the facts and figures of QVM are well discussed by tourism guide books on Melbourne, there is much more to discover under the steel and mortar canopies.

She is much like the quality java available at Market Lane Coffee, which skirts the Market. You need to wrap your hands around the warm cup, admire the rosetta, breathe in the aroma and sip slowly to discover the plethora of notes. As I meander her produce-filled aisles, I know I have uncovered her charms and secrets. She has helped build a vibrant and multicultural city by offering fresh and often cheap seasonal produce, alongside the smiles, laughter, hopes and dreams of Melbourne. She is my kitchen, my supermarket and my delicious slice of Melbourne.
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When: Weekdays - Trading Hours: Tue: 6am - 2pm
Thu: 6am - 2pm
Fri: 6am - 5pm (general merchandise to 4pm)
Weekends: Trading Hours - Sat: 6am - 3pm
Sun: 9am - 4pm
Phone: 03 9320 5822
Where: 513 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne VIC 3000
Your Comment
Great article. Such a lot of work went into this.QVM was also built over Melbourne's first cemetery so it features on ghost tours as well.
by Nadine Cresswell-Myatt (score: 3|4648) 1983 days ago
My mum saw the ghost of a young child dressed in olden day clothes there once (not in a scary way).
by caz13 (score: 2|159) 1971 days ago
Well researched, great work!
And full of tantalisingly titillating table talk about food :)
by Dave Walsh (score: 4|10448) 1983 days ago
Wow, QVM built over Melbournes first cemetery? That's amazing, all the times I've been there I never knew that. Great article.
by Maria (score: 0|2) 1982 days ago
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