22 October 2009

A Foodie Shangri-La - Queen Victoria Market

Bulgy, rotund happy tasty tomato friends!

Satellite television can be a cruel friend. When S and I lived in Mumbai I would watch the Travel&Living channel and watch with salivation and sick envy the gooey food porno of Nigella, the minimalist comfort dishes of Ina and Giada's fattening glory (which she cannot possibly be eating.) Don't get me wrong - I LOVE Indian food but I can't cook it worth a damn. It was my opinion that while I was in India, why should I cook Indian food? The stuff was practically being given away everywhere I looked.

No, instead of dahl and roti I wanted to cook magnificent pastas, divine salads and olive oil soaked anti pasti. I wanted what they were eating on the Travel&Living Channel.

After getting all worked up and excited for the amazing meal I envisioned myself making in my cold water kitchen (2 burners, no oven = many salads) I would head to the shiny expat grocery store to shop for my ingredients. Once inside I would be confronted with the sad reality as I gazed upon pathetic displays of "Western" foods - a few sickly blocks of cheese, a token bottle of pesto, a handful of soft flavourless olives. The shelves looked full, until you noticed that they were stocked with endless repeats - the seemingly bursting shelves actually only held about 30 different products, all marked up and sold at prices that were shockingly high, but that I paid anyway just to try to taste the intangible flavour of home.

It was often an epic fail, to coin a phrase.... bizarre cobbled-together dishes emerged from my gas Coleman stove-thing and were eaten politely by S. "It's the ingredients," I would moan, "there's no goddamned cheese or non-Indian vegetables, no fresh seafood, no good olive oil. Eff it, let's go get an aloo gobi."After leaving Mumbai, for the next year we had no (or very brief) access to a kitchen.

But now I am in Melbourne and staying with my friend Lindsay - and this time not only is there a kitchen, there is even an oven... but that is not the best part.

The best part is the Queen Victoria Market in downtown Melbourne.

Commence arty sign photo, now!

It is one of the largest markets in the world, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere and is seeped in tradition and history - all reasons that I opted to go on the Foodies Dream Tour organized by the visitors centre. I was in Heaven. Finally, my dreams of cheese, butter, wine and olives all smashed together in some sort of foodgasmic brain overload - thank god I had a guide, or I would have had a seizure.

They had possum and wallaby as well... reminds me of this.

The market was built in 1878, and has stood in its current incarnation since 1929, expanding out the back into long sheds when space in the main building filled up. The interior is an Art Deco dream - the marble counters acted as a natural cooling system before refrigeration and are all original and in the process of being restored.

Yep, they eat Skippy.

We started our tour in the meat hall - though I do not eat meat myself I do like to see steps in the right direction toward sustainable, 'special' meat experiences (rather than the endless unethical parade of factory farmed flesh the Western world is known for.) Wild game meats are a sustainable and healthy alternative to "Sad Cow Disease" (I just made that up. Yes? No?) and Aussies are nuts for their native meats. I almost tried a bite of kangaroo, but then remembered this little fellow. Goddamn my bleeding heart. Oh well, better mine than his....

Shiny happy oysters.

Ah, the seafood section. In both the meat and fish halls are family run butcher shops and fish mongers who have been in this Market since its opening date in 1929 - the quality shows. The air had only the faintest hint of a fishy smell despite the thousands of kilos of shrimp, octopus, clams and swimmy fishes lining the display cases. Just look at these glistening, fresh oysters - who could resist? A dash of lemon, a pinch of salt and slide it down the hatch.

This will be on the flag of Violetistan.

The Produce Hall is one of the loveliest I have ever seen. Heirloom tomatoes sit next to heritage apples and organic broccoli - and every piece is picture perfect. It is the small farmers of the world that are working to prevent a complete mono-culture of the world's seeds and the loss of historically important- and delicious - quirky fruits and vegetables. Support them!

Interesting fact - when the market was just starting to take on its current shape in 1917 the produce sheds were built over top of a huge graveyard - to this day there are over 9000 bodies in unmarked graves beneath the potatoes and melons. Macabre.

The only way to be into mushrooms and not be a giant douche...

At Granville Island, Vancouver's QVM equivalent, there are two long haired hippie dudes who have a booth in the fall: The Mushroom Guys. While they look like they'd be hawking those other kind of mushrooms they only sell strictly legal types while lovingly and passionately expounding on the wondrous properties and uses of chanterelles, morels, lobster and porcini- they are addicted. Since speaking with them at length one day now mushrooms get me excited - I feel like Amanda in Another Roadside Attraction. I can't wait to get home and cook with some pine and black ears as well as the three precious lovelies above!

Note the reflection of the Art Deco windows in the case....

The final wing we toured was the Deli - my favourite of all places. I felt like a kid in a creamy, salty candy store as our guide led us past Italian, Greek, French and Modern Aussie delis each selling wondrous piles of delight. I spent so much money - and I hav never been happier to do so, unless on shoes.

Mr Brando, I don't appreciate that suggestion.

Artesanal butters were really something I started getting into before leaving for Asia - a thin slice on a piece of bread can rival the complexity and flavour of a fine cheese. Some of the vendors in the Market fly their butter in from France (!) but these guys make it fresh using Aussie milk. If you usually eat the gold foil wrapped block from the grocery store or - gasp - margarine you simply need to haul ass down to the farmer's market and get your wee hands on some real butter. It makes all the difference in the world (and yes, to the ole' waistband, so moderati....oh whatever. I love butter more than skinny jeans...)

Stay tuned in the Winter for my new Cheese Blog, written by Mr Williams and I!

What else can I say? This is an amazing selection of cheese. I think I just had a stroke.

Yes, wine man, I will marry that Zin, I mean you.....

To finish off the excellent tour, what is a little taste of wine at 11:30am? This lovely shop sells local wines, ciders and microbrew beers. My suggestion? Walk home with the bags - that way you can pre-emptively work off the calories from the orgy of food and booze sure to follow after a visit to the Market.

Not the best lighting, but I hope you can clearly see how lurvely it was, despite the separated sauce :(

That evening I returned to Lindsay's flat, arms laden with bags and bags of goodies and ready to prepare a meal using only ingredients from the Market.

The Menu:
Seared Salmon fillet with a Blood Orange and Sauvignon Blanc vinaigrette (it separated at the last mo, but was still yummy!)
Roasted Asparagus
Crispy New Potatoes with Lemon and Chili
Tomato, Rocket and Boconcini Salad topped with basil, shallots and walnuts

So while yes, I love and miss India, there ain't no one more happy to see Queen Victoria Market than me. The tour was great and the supper- well, that was wonderful, if I do say so myself.

And I do!

Next time I'm making a boconcini sald with boconcini and a boconcini dressing.


Sproglet said...

Violet....why do you keep doing this to me!?

Food porn!

kanmuri said...

OMG! That IS food porn! It all looks delicious!

Mesina said...

I think I just cried seeing all that food! Oh wow, what a glorious market! How lucky were you to be a part of that and get down and dirty with some fabulous selection of well...EVERYTHING! I am so jealous and honest, your dinner looked so wonderful I just wept. Thanks for sharing and if I ever find myself lurking in Australia I am SO GOING THERE! xx

Grant said...

Whew! I think i need a cigarette. Only you can provoke so many autonomic body responses in one blog. When does the hard cover come out?

sk said...

We'll have to go to markets in LA when you're here. Check this out though in the meantime:


I'm interested in the Butter! Maybe bring some with you.

Marrcoism Experience said...

"...when it comes to salads, I become a totalitarian. Move aside please, don't take that, I saw that first that's mine...!"
Also, surprise you can burn a few fine gourmet. How wonderful you are. Please, don't torture me.

Pat said...

Now THAT'S when it's fun to go to the grocery store! And you needed a GUIDE? WOW! I LOVE IT!

All the items looked great - your dinner looked delish!

Will you post the recipes?

Violet Dear said...

@Pat - recipes? It's all off the top of my head!

DNAcinema said...

ciao! ha aperto i battenti il nuovo portale di cinema direttamente dagli studios di Cinecittà. News, recensioni, anteprime, foto, video e tanto altro ancora; e se vuoi collaborare con noi scrivendo recensioni scrivici @ dnacinema@yahoo.it http://dnacinema.blogspot.com/ P.S. Complimenti per il blog, ottimo lavoro! (saresti daccordo per un'affiliazione? ci terrei particolarmente...) A presto! Lorenzo

Sara said...

Ahhhh. Queen Vic market. Everytime we're in Melbourne visiting my gran and auntie and uncle etc, we always try to get down to "Queen Vic" market. I love it there. All the food as you say is more than likely locally produced and is fresh. I wish I was there now :-))

Little Miss Piggy said...

Yay! You're in Melbourne! Been following you're travels and it's great to hear what you think of OZ. I've lived here for 6months now and loving it! QV Market is great, but you've also got to try South Melbourne Market and Prahan Market too...both with great fruit and veg and I often find they are less crowded. Enjoy! x