In the twenty years that I lived in Melbourne, I can count the number of times I’ve visited Prahran Market on a single hand. As a child and teenager living at home, my parents preferred to do their shopping in areas like Box Hill and Springvale. When I moved out, I was more likely to grab a frozen meal from the supermarket than I was to buy actual fresh food and groceries. It’s only in the past two years that I’ve cared about the produce I buy – conveniently, I’ve been living in Sydney for the past two years!
When I found out that the reopening of the Prahran Market Hidden Gem Market Tours would coincide with a recent trip back to Melbourne to see family, I jumped at the opportunity to join the tour and learn something more about Prahran Market. I took my cousin along with me on the tour on a sunny (but cold!) Saturday morning.
Did you know Prahran Market is actually Victoria’s oldest market? It’s eighteen years older than the more famous Queen Victoria Market, and arguably caters to a customer base that cares more for quality over quantity. The produce is fresh and largely local, the market clean and organised (and recently renovated!), and the stallholders friendly and ready to offer advice or a helping hand.
Our tour guide Carol was absolutely superb, and a real fount of knowledge. She originally moved to Australia to help open up five star hotels and worked professionally in that industry. I think she’s semi-retired now, and runs these market tours as well as cooking demonstrations every Thursday. With a real passion for quality local produce, she gave us some really handy tips along the way as she took us around the market – everything from the best meal you can make with a chicken maryland to freezing mandarins to eat just before you go to bed.
The produce was the real highlight of course – each stall in the fresh fruit and vegetable section of the market created a real cacophony of colour no matter where you turned.
At the Eggs+ store, we got to eye off the massive ostrich eggs that they stock (next time you have a recipe that calls for an ostrich egg…), as well as try a spoonful of the most delicious Mount Dandenong raw honey. Carol couldn’t rave about honey enough – not only for the purity of its taste, but also the fact that it never goes off, and has many medicinal qualities as well.
After going through the seafood and meat section of the market (check out Hagen’s Organic Butcher – very British and cool!), Carol took us to Jasper’s Coffee – owned by one of the first guys to ever start talking about ‘fair trade’ coffee way back in the days when exploitation and low prices were still the word of the day. They now stock an enormous range of single-origin beans from all over the world, ethically sourced and ground on request.
For those coffee drinkers amongst us – Carol also advised tasting different coffees, and matching them to times of the day, seasons, or even moods. She had her strong morning coffee brew, and a weaker, softer afternoon brew. I have to admit these subtleties are lost on me as a tea drinker, but K loves the idea.
We visited the mushroom man, and aside from a quick and simple lesson on different varieties of mushrooms and the ways to use them, we got to see and smell the greatest treasures that a ‘fungiculturalist’ can offer – truffles. The smell is simply intoxicating and I was tempted to part with a three-figured dollar note to purchase one. I resisted (could I take it on the plane back to Sydney?), but that doesn’t mean that you should!
In the deli section of the market, there’s amazing stalls offering everything from delicious cheeses (I tried an amazing blue cheese!) to fresh crusty breads, home-made dips, Greek desserts, cold cuts, and more. I sampled a bit of everything and just fell in love!
I’m a real sucker for baklava – Abla’s Patisserie at the Market really delivered the goods with tray after immense tray of flaky filo pastry goodness. I went a bit crazy here and bought some pastries to take home for my dad and brother to try.
One amazing thing about Prahran Market is the temporary stalls that they offer to young up-and-coming producers – a great way of promoting and encouraging young investment into the food industry. The day we went, there were three people showcasing their new products – this guy was making caramel popcorn using an American method he had learned over the California. My cousin bought a big bag of this! The other two stallholders were selling gourmet home-made pet treats for dogs and cats, as well as handmade chocolates using Swiss couverture chocolate.
With our hour and a half market tour over, my cousin and I stopped at some stalls to pick up a quick lunch – first a seafood chowder from the Mussel Pot mobile mussel restaurant. While the chowder was creamy and the mussels perfectly cooked, I’d probably recommend ordering an alternative dish – perhaps the mussels in the tomato or white wine sauce as an alternative. For the same price, you get a lot more mussels and its much better value for money!
For the second part of our meal, we visited a little old lady who was making gozleme. Conversation wasn’t her strong point – and why would it need to be when the gozleme tasted the way it did? With a dash of lemon and some yoghurt, it was just perfect.
Overall, I rate the Prahran Market Hidden Gems Market Tour an 8.5 out of 10. With the right tour guide, it’s the type of tour that has something to offer everybody – my non-cooking cousin enjoyed the chance to sample a bit of everything from every stallholder we visited, and I got a lot of information and ideas out of the cooking tips that Carol offered along the way. If ever I should move back to Melbourne, I would definitely make Prahran Market a regular shopping destination!
Gourmanda attended the Prahran Market Hidden Gem Market Tour as a guest of Prahran Market. All images and words are my own.