Enjoy a guided stroll around the Adelaide Central Market to meet a number of stallholders, hear their stories, and taste-test their premium wares. The tour ends with a relaxed coffee and chat, and your foodie guide will be happy to provide recommendations for places to eat for the rest of your stay. Duration: 1.5 hours (approx.)
It’s a question I haven’t heard in a while. But while my travel documents are gathering dust at home, my guide Cheryl is intent on taking me around the world. ‘Welcome to South America’, she declares as she introduces the owners of Cumbia — a stall in the northeastern corner of Adelaide’s Central Market.
They ask me what type of empañada I’d like and soon I’m biting into a golden parcel of lightly spiced beef and potato with a tangy salsa roja, so good I ladle it on with a spoon. Before I’m even finished, Cheryl is planning the next stop.
‘I’m going to quickly pop over to Korea,’ she announces. ‘I’ll be back in two minutes’. She returns with a vegetable pancake packed with greens like chrysanthemum, coriander and spinach and liberally doused in a deliciously sweet and salty chicken sauce. All of the ingredients come from other stalls at the markets. And why not — after all, this is the best pantry in the world.
More than just a place to get brunch or stock up on fresh produce, the Adelaide Central Market is a microcosm of Australia’s food scene. It’s a melting pot of ingredients, flavours and traditions, and the most important stop on any culinary tour of Adelaide. In the 150 years since it opened, the Central Market has showcased traditions from each successive wave of migrants and helped introduce them to broader Australian society.
Today the steady hum of shoppers is broken by the shouts of vendors spruiking their wares. Eighty stalls sell everything from fresh produce to seafood, imported cheeses and exotic spices, and Cheryl seems to know every one of them. That’s how we meet Steve — the 87 year old proprietor of Central Organic — who has an impish smile and an endless arsenal of groanworthy dad jokes. More importantly, he also has beautiful organic produce and can tell us exactly the farm that each item comes from.
Then there’s Real Falafel owner Mitch, who arrived in Australia a few years ago as a refugee from Saudi Arabia. His falafel are bright green inside and crispy on the outside, and when Cheryl declares them the best in Australia, it’s hard to argue. By the end of the 90-minute tour my virtual passport has been stamped many times. Along the way I’ve been treated to luridly coloured Turkish delight, a platter of native botanicals, slices of rustic, freshly made pâté, and extravagantly spiced mettwurst known as a ‘bum burner’.
At each stop, Cheryl is able to illuminate part of the Market’s history or introduce me to the characters that populate it. She’s also full of practical advice like where to look for half-price lasagne, when stalls start discounting fresh produce, and which is the best fishmonger to patronise.
At 150 years old, the Central Market is one of Adelaide’s most venerable institutions. And thanks to the many moving parts, it feels like a living entity. Every Adelaide resident has their favourite stalls, but Cheryl proves that even for a local there are still plenty of secrets waiting to be discovered.
After spending years as a music journalist and beer taster, Alexis Buxton-Collins sold everything he owned and spent three years travelling the world. He now writes about his experiences on the road, both abroad and at home in Adelaide. Alexis has written for Australian Traveller, Qantas, Virgin, Lonely Planet, Wild, and many other publications. He’s currently undertaking a comprehensive search for McLaren Vale’s best value bottle of wine.