Celebrating its 150th year of operation the South Melbourne Market is the proud, longstanding heart of South Melbourne. With a chequered history that includes a devastating fire and two bombings, the market has survived all that’s been thrown at it, making it the longest running market in Melbourne.
The South Melbourne Market is a celebration of both regional produce, and Melbourne’s multicultural communities where no two stalls are the same. Here, all under the one roof you’ll find Asian, Polish or Turkish ingredients next to hand crafted home wares and boutique clothing labels.
Approaching South Melbourne Market from York Street, all your senses are ignited as you pass street food style stands, each offering a cuisine more mouth-watering than the last. Giant pans of seafood rich paella are a colourful draw as is the stalls accompanying, energetic Spanish music blasting over the speakers. Or Bambu, churning out baskets of contemporary Bao. Encased in fluffy, fresh from the steamer buns and filled to the brim with caramelized pork belly in sticky chili sauce, it’s an indulgent, modern twist in a south-east Asian staple.
Wondering further, a line is formed and will be for the entirety of the day outside South Melbourne Market Dim Sims. In operation since 1946, these homemade, generously portioned dim sims are a local favourite and a must try for any first timer to the market.
No trip to the market can begin without a caffeine hit. Clement, a literal hole in the wall is a coffee shop you’d be forgiven for missing. But while the space is cosy, the interiors are a bright and inviting mix of white and bold pastels with shelves stocked with bagged up beans for purchase. Peruse the artisanal doughnuts and other assorted pastries while knowledgeable baristas create your perfect cup of happiness.
Inside the market the friendly grocers can be heard spruiking their produce. Their booming voices filling your ears with all the sale prices of the day. Regular household grocery shopping is a breeze here with the selection of familiar produce. Occasionally the odd fruit or unusual vegetable on display elicits curious looks and questions from shoppers.
The meat and deli isles is there the energy really is. It’s hard to walk past a vendor without being offered help or tempting samples. Noticeably the selections here are largely sustainable, traceable and organic meats and seafood. The buzz in this section is mesmerizing, as friendly butchers offer advice on the best cuts for ambitious home cooks. Shoppers wave their money above the counter, pointing to their selections as smiling butchers and fishmongers efficiently weigh, wrap and sell their produce in quick succession.
One of my favourite stalls is Swords which offers a diverse range of local red and white wines. The main draw here for me though, as well as the neighbourhoods’ thick bearded hipsters, is the array of local and international craft beers. The staff here are amongst the friendliest in the market and offer a wealth of knowledge on even the most obscure beers on the shelf.
For fresh out the oven pastries you can’t go past Agathé Pâtisserie. Here, as you wait in a long, but well worth the wait line, you can watch pastry chefs roll, knead and twist mounds of dough into the delicious, warm, flaky croissants that await you at the end of the queue. The heavy aroma of butter hangs in the air encouraging impulse purchases of other French-style baked goods at the cashier.
The Food Hall is an upmarket version of a typical food court. Here, you won’t find any lukewarm bain-marie offerings of stodgy dishes with questionable meats. Instead, your tastebuds are treated to hearty Asian style soups, fresh sucked oysters served natural with your choice of toppings or mouth-watering café brunch options; a favourite among millennials who ensure they get the perfect insta-snap before tucking onto their sky-high smashed avocado on organic sourdough bread.
South Melbourne Market is a sensory experience. Whether you come for a coffee, to grocery shop or simply to people watch. Just be sure to bring extra shopping bags, as I can guarantee you will walk out with much more than you intended.