When I was little every Saturday morning in Halifax the old Alexander Keith’s Brewery transformed into a network of delicious aromas sweet and savoury, arts and crafts sold on every corner. There were fiddlers on bends and people everywhere buying and eating local goods. For me, it was magic walking through the brick tunnels, down corridors and into open areas people watching while eating freshly made cinnamon buns. It reminded me of Harry Potter. Today the market has grown too big for its previous home and while a smaller one still exists in the Brewery the main one has moved down the road to Pier 22 on the waterfront. While the magic of the old twisting hallways is gone, the magic has changed to capturing the sun coming up over the harbour or watching the harbour while sipping on perfectly roasted coffee. The Halifax Farmer’s Market was my first taste of a local market and I happily would have spent every Saturday there! I loved the idea of it. Even if it was a boutique shopping area, I aspired to be able to get my local veg from it one day. I didn’t understand that in other countries you had fresh food markets everyday of the week where people really did their weekly or daily grocery shop and then I began to travel.
If you have ever visited or lived in Barcelona I would guess you have visited the Las Ramblas La Boqueria food market. I went on Easter Break while on a term abroad in University and I can still remember walking in and being awestruck by the smell of fresh fruit in the air, the vibrancy of every single stall and the sheer size of the place. Locals buying, selling, haggling, fish, vegetables, pork, beef, candy. You name it, it was all there and I thought this is where you get to see life happen in a city. People laughing, smiling, butchers yelling prices of meat and the next best sale. Market life is a normal affair for most places I have been lucky enough to visit and whether they are boutique food and artisan markets, or working markets for everyday use they are on my hit list wherever I go. Melbourne is no different.
When friends gave me their list of to do’s in Melbourne Queen Victoria Market was always on the top of the list. I didn’t realise that there were a multitude of daily markets in Melbourne to explore and feast your senses on. By day you can visit the Queen Victoria, South Melbourne or Prahan market and find the freshest of vegetables, best cuts of meat, freshly baked breads, cheeses, chocolates and dips for better prices than the grocery stores or the same but you know that they will taste a million times better. Each charming in their own way, I find them completely different from another. The Queen Vic is the largest with covered parking lots brimming with tables and tables of fresh produce, the donut man selling freshly made donuts on the street and inside across the path meats, fish and your boulangeries, the South Melbourne is the middle man situated in a large cornerstone warehouse with stores, cafes and stalls all around the outside and the inside a maze of shops and boutiques and finally the Prahan Market the smallest of the three although I still managed to get turned around. It sells some delicious Greek pastries!
And then by night there are the night markets – street parties based in markets where the smell of roasting candied nuts fills the air. Live music plays on stages and gets everyone up and dancing, jewellers, artisans and collectors sell their wear and you can try food from all over the globe. Not to mention very good sangria at the Queen Victoria Night Market and delicious Italian ice cream at the South Melbourne one. There are even local fire dancers at the St. Kilda one which gives the market a bohemian atmosphere and for a moment when we sat watching them I could have been at the Otres Beach Night Market in Cambodia.
I don’t think markets will ever loose their charm for me. Even if I live in a small town where I got my groceries from the market everyday I don’t think it would ever become a chore. There is a magic that can be found that is no where else and for people watching you couldn’t find a better place.