Taste test your way around a Melbourne landmark on this guided tour of the historic Queen Victoria Market. You’ll be completely immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of this much-loved institution. Around ten tastings, a sweet treat and a take-home Queen Victoria Market shopping bag are included. Duration: 2 hours (approx.)
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A first-time visit to Melbourne’s vast Queen Victoria Market can be quite overwhelming, especially on weekends when it’s packed with shoppers.
Knees and ankles are menaced by shopping jeeps and pram wheels, and with such a massive range of produce on offer it’s hard to know where to start. That’s why a guided tour is such a good option.
The Queen Victoria Market walking tour offers an ideal introduction to the best of today’s market, as well as fascinating insights into its history. Today I’m joining a small group of visitors braving a crisp Melbourne winter morning to do the tour. Guests are kitted out with a shopping bag (yours to keep), and a bowl and fork to help keep things tidy during the ample included tastings.
First though, where are we and why should you come? Well, the 140-year-old Queen Victoria Market — known to locals simply as the Vic Market — is a Melbourne institution and Victoria’s most visited attraction. It welcomes nearly 10 million people each year. With around 700 traders (some with stalls that have been in the same family for generations), the market is a microcosm of multicultural Melbourne and its thriving foodie scene. The market is located on the northern side of the city — within easy walking distance of the CBD.
We begin the tour by exploring the indoor market halls, which opened in 1878. Gold had made Melbourne one of the richest cities on the planet, and the design of the new market incorporated plenty of architectural bling (including Italian Mannerist features) to let the rest of the world know just how wealthy we were.
First up is the packed meat and fish hall, and I won’t lie. It doesn’t smell that great. It’s also noisy as stallholders shout out their special offers. The array of meats on offer is head spinning. Apart from the usual beef, lamb, pork and chicken, you’ll find fresh crocodile, wild rabbit and a somewhat confronting array of offal. The upmarket Sardes Quality Meats supplies some of Melbourne’s fanciest restaurants with prime cuts costing upwards of $100 per kilo.
In the fish hall we get our first tasting — a freshly shucked Coffin Bay oyster from Seafood and Oyster Spot. I’m not a fan, so I pass on the opportunity to try one for myself. However, my fellow travellers give them the tick of approval and assure me they are top-notch.
I make up for my lack of enthusiasm at our next stop. In a laneway at the back of the market our guide knocks on a red wooden door. Nigerian-born Kunle, proprietor of Tribal Tastes — the market’s only African deli — emerges to serve us a generous tasting of his black-eyed beans with red pepper and onion. The vegan-friendly dish is seriously yummy.
For me, the highlight of the tour is the Dairy Hall — the site of Melbourne’s original creameries. Today there’s a real mixture of produce on offer including smallgoods and cheeses, cakes, breads, roasted coffee and boutique wine.
Exploring the stalls in this hall is like being on a European tour. It reflects the great wave of immigration to the Victorian capital after World War II. Many Europeans made a new life in Melbourne and revolutionised the city’s food scene.
We start in Greece at the Hellenic Deli where we sample their delicious dolmades. Next we’re off to Germany at the Gewürzhaus Herb and Spice Merchants stall. We polish off some Polish smallgoods, before visiting France and Italy via the Queen Vic Deli. The Brie cheese is so ripe and gooey it has to be literally scraped off the tasting board with a spoon. The Italian blue Gorgonzola is also a winner.
We leave the indoor halls behind to visit the bustling fruit and vegetable sheds. The sound of stallholders spruiking their wares, particularly as we get close to closing time, reverberates throughout the sheds. We taste some fresh strawberries before heading to our final stop — Geloso Gelateria. Their ice cream is made on the premises daily. It may be a little chilly for ice cream but not for affogato! A double shot of espresso poured over handmade vanilla bean ice cream packs me with enough sugar and caffeine to get through the rest of the day.
This two-hour Queen Victoria Market walking tour is a great introduction to the huge range of produce on offer, and the historical anecdotes help explain why the market is so important to the identity of Melbourne. As a local I’ve been here countless times before, but there was plenty I didn’t know or had never noticed. The tour is informative and offers more than a few surprises.
Louise travelled as a guest of the Queen Victoria Market.
Additional images: Bigstock
Louise Reynolds made up her mind at the age of about four that she would one day travel the world — and has so far visited around 30 countries across five continents and the Pacific. A hopeless Francophile, she has a particular love for France, its language and pretty much all things French. Louise’s favourite way to see the world is on foot and her boots have taken her walking on famous trails in Europe, South America and New Zealand. She also has a passion for her home state of Victoria and loves exploring its diverse regions.