Review: Sydney Fresh Food Markets Travelicious Tour

This past weekend, I joined Lauren of Travelicious Tours for the Saturday Fresh Food Markets half-day tour. As a small family-run business, the vibe of Travelicious Tours was very different to other food tours I’ve attended, as the tour group was much smaller with seven people and much more personal and intimate as a result.

Note: I joined this tour as a complimentary guest for review purposes.

We started out at 9am on Saturday, meeting at Central Station. Our small group of seven was made up of four older ladies, a younger couple in their late twenties, and myself – promoted by Lauren to the others as a blogger who was there to review the tour. I’ll take that label, and wear it with pride.

Jumping into the Travelicious minivan (chauffered by Lauren’s husband Shaun – I told you it was a family-run business!) we headed towards the Eveleigh Farmers Market, with Lauren giving the group a short history and profile of the markets along the way.

Eveleigh is the type of farmers market where the average stallholder holds numerous awards for the excellence of their produce and products. Built on what used to be former estate in colonial times, the market owners have the strictest standards in order to maintain this level of excellence, ensuring that all their stallholders are small growers who sell produce or items that are organic, local, and sustainable in nature.

Eveleigh markets

As soon as you arrive at Eveleigh Markets, you can absolutely see exactly how prestigious it must be to hold a stall there. I’ve shopped at markets before – however they have always prided themselves on quantity over quality. This is definitely not the case at Eveleigh with under 50 stallholders selling produce that looked so good that your mouth would start watering as soon as you stepped into the market hall. This actually made it quite difficult for Lauren to keep our small group together as people were constantly lured away by the promise of some tasty produce to take home.

The two hours we spent at Eveleigh Markets were designed to give us a personal connection and conversation with some key stallholders and some exclusive taste testing, while also giving us half an hour to shop to our heart’s content for organic produce.

We started off at Princess Pantry, where Lauren introduced us to owner Cathy, who comes from a long family history of making their own jams, preserves, and other sweet treats. She shared with us stories about the inspiration of Princess Pantry, particularly stories of her Nanna who used to make quince jelly that was shared with the neighbours who in turn shared their homemade marmalade, or peach preserves. She uses those same principles in all her jams and preserves – based around a love of local in-season produce free of thickeners and other additives. All natural, all the time.

I walked away from Princess Pantry with a pot of the True Blood Orange Marmalade (blood oranges grown locally in the Riverina from third generation growers) for a tidy $14AUD. My purchase is a real testament to Cathy’s skill as I generally shy away from citrus-based marmalades as being too acidic for my liking. The True Blood Orange Marmalade however has quite a mild taste. I’ve already tested it at home on a slice of scone toast, and it went beautifully.

At our next stop at Farmer Jo‘s, we were treated to taste-testing of what they term ‘breakfast indulgence’ mueslis – or mueslis that try to blend some semblance of health with real taste and bursts of flavour. They achieve these amazing flavours that differentiate them from other muesli producers by some time-consuming methods, particularly drying all fruits themselves (meaning less preservatives), and in some cases, soaking muesli overnight in juices before packing.

Farmer Jo also has the first muesli concept cafe in Surry Hills which comes with rave reviews. The cafe is on my list of places to visit, but until that day, I sated my infrequent desire for muesli by purchasing a small packet of their Hazelnut Chocolate and Orange Toasted Muesli. See what I meant when I said indulgent muesli?!

Eveleigh markets

Next stop – Alto Olives. We were introduced to Michael who not only owns Alto Olives and creates all the olive oils and various products himself but is also actually a world-renowned judge of olive oil. His own olive oils have won numerous awards in competitions around the world (most recently, in Los Angeles and also the prestigious Royal Melbourne Show).

We were lucky enough to get a mini-tutorial from Michael on how to best taste and judge the quality of olive oil. Where previously I had tasted olive oils from other producers by dipping bread into the oil, Michael actually taught us how to taste and judge the quality of the oil by drinking the oil. I was surprised by just how tasty a good olive oil really is. I tried it with my own cooking oil when I got home, and you can really tell the difference between a good $40 bottle of gourmet olive oil, and a $10 bottle from the supermarket. No purchases here, but I did learn some things that I’ll probably apply to my thinking process when I next need to buy a new bottle of oil.

We finished off the personal guided meet-and-greet with a stop at the Country Valley Dairy and a chat with Ester the Dairy Queen. Ester is an advocate for permeate free dairy products, and is an integral part of the movement in Australia which is campaigning to have the cheap $2 milk (e.g. with preservatives, integrated milk powders etc) removed from supermarkets and replaced with ‘real’ milk. It’s a real bone of contention right now in the Australian food industry, so it was fascinating to be able to have a chat with Ester about her views on the dairy industry.

We sampled a few different cheeses (particularly some from the smaller Dexter cows which are lower in lactose), yoghurts, and Pepe Saya butter – a butter that is hand churned from single origin cream using a centuries old technique. Pepe Saya butter is particularly popular with all the top hatted restaurants in Sydney, and is becoming quite well known in the gastronomic world. Ester gifted us with a small bottle of permeate free milk when we left, and I also bought a really full-bodied three year old vintage cheddar ($15) as well.

Eveleigh Markets

We were given half an hour then to do a bit of a wander around the market on our own. I visited most of the other stallholders, and sampled bits and pieces of everything (rare Angus beef, homemade chocolate brownies, home-grown oranges, etc) but didn’t make any other purchases.

I also found a flower stand with some of the freshest and most beautiful flowers I’ve ever seen. You won’t find a single wilting petal or yellowed leaf at this stand at Eveleigh – everything is hand-picked that morning. If it wasn’t for the fact that my cat has a personal vendetta against all forms of plant life, I would have bought the lot.

Time’s up, and onto the Sydney Fish Markets! Again, Lauren gave us a bit of a quick history of the Fish Markets on our drive there.

Fish markets

The Sydney Fish Markets are actually the second largest in the world when it comes to the variety of species and amount sold – second only to the famous Tokyo Markets. Of course, with that volume there are additional environmental concerns like over-fishing that are increasingly becoming top of mind. It was rebuilt about ten years ago to become a central part of Sydney’s food culture – and since that time, has become an internationally renowned tourist destination. It’s not unusual for dozens of busloads of tourists to visit the markets on any given day – and I don’t think it’s too racist for me to say this, but it’s usually tourists from Asian countries who come for the seafood.

As it’s right on the water, you can buy your fish fresh (literally fresh and raw in the form of sashimi from the sashimi bars if you prefer!) and eat it outside, overlooking the water. We did this – Lauren bought two large seafood platters, and our group had a fresh seafood lunch by the water. I ended up buying two kilos of black mussels for $12AUD which I used later that week to make Mussels in a Thai Red Curry Soup.

A great thing about the Fish Markets is that it’s not limited to seafood either. The grocer in the markets also carries a wide range of fruits and vegetables, beyond what you might normally find in your average supermarket. Some of the more unusual items I found were tamarillos, cumquats, custard apples, greyzinni and actual banana leaves (the type that you use to wrap sticky rice).

Of course, there needs to be a sweet element to any meal, so after our seafood lunch, we finished off our tour with a quick pitstop at Glace in Leichardt.

Glace

You know how you often see on the menus of fancy restaurants: “served with homemade icecream”? It’s actually most likely not homemade by them – it’s actually homemade by their supplier. Glace is one such supplier, and they serve many of the hatted restaurants in Sydney.

For them, icecream is an art. They constantly experiment with new flavours (our tour guide’s mother actually suggested a flavour to them which they made the next time she visited!), and interesting designs. Also unlike other ice-creameries in Sydney, at least one third of the flavours are sorbet which is obviously a friendlier option for those who are lactose-intolerant. I walked out with a scoop of the blood orange and lime sorbet for the drive back to Central Station, which I highly recommend for anyone who wants a refreshing sorbet with a bit of a bite to it.

Overall

This Fresh Food Markets tour really worked as a half-day tour. What I’ve found on other tours I’ve been on is that they go for too long and given that you’re eating the whole time, you just feel uncomfortably full by the end. This one really struck a good balance between perfectly satiated and slightly over-full, keeping you satisfied and feeling like you got your money’s worth.

The locations chosen were also a good blend of the niche (Eveleigh Markets) and the commercial (Fish Markets), while not overwhelming the group with large markets with a million stallholders. The close proximity of the markets also allowed us to minimise travel time on the bus and maximise quality time shopping and eating!

I’ve mentioned before as well that the tour guide really makes or breaks the tour. The smaller family-run nature of Travelicious Tours that I mentioned earlier really works in its favour. Rather than losing yourself in a group of two dozen, the smaller niche tour really brings a real personal note into all your interactions during the day. You hear stories about Lauren and Shaun’s little boy, about her childhood growing up in Wollongong, and much more.

Lauren also thinks about how she can value-add something relevant to the interests of her group. Before we left the tour, she gave me her list of the Top 3 Sydney eateries in any category – from best Breakfast, best Cheap and Cheerful, best Views of the Harbour to best Something Quirky, and much more. Knowing I was still relatively new to Sydney, and knowing my interest in eating my way around the city, that was her way of giving me a little something extra, which was really appreciated.

Overall, I rate the tour a 9.5 out of 10. I really enjoyed my time on the tour and the delicious goodies I picked up on the day, and I raved about the tours to all my colleagues afterwards.

Disclaimer

I approached Travelicious Tours a few weeks ago with the offer of writing a review of one of their food-centric tours. I was not paid for this review, though I did join the tour free of charge. As per my usual terms and conditions, I specified that the review I would give would be truthful and honest, capturing both the good and the bad regardless of my free attendance.

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