My boyfriend and I have been shopping at the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne for nearly two years. We make a date of it - we usually visit on a Sunday morning before it gets too busy and grab a coffee and a snack before hitting the market stalls. I must admit, it took a few goes before we ceased to feel overwhelmed and were happy with our choices, but now that we've got it down pat it's totally worth the drive past several big chain supermarkets.
Last week, I decided to organise a surprise for him and booked us into the two hour market tour. We took the tour today and found it well worth the $49 each. Our tour guide Dianne, who clearly loves the market and her job, took us around for two hours while talking about the history, the vendors and the produce. We even sampled the wares. It amazed us that we go there every week, sometimes more than once, but don't often stop to really take in all that is available and everything that's happening around us.
It got me thinking about all the reasons why it's better for us to shop at the market:
1) It's quality time that we spend together, a moment out of our busy lives and a chance to plan the week as a team. Waaaayyyyy more enjoyable than a trip to the supermarket.
2) It's cheaper. I can't believe it when I go to the supermarket now that I know how much things cost at the market. A few examples: spinach and ginger are around $25 a kilo at the supermarket but only $9.99 at the market. You can get a whole bunch of celery at the market for the price of a half at the supermarket. Lamb chops are 1/3 of the price and the end of day fish specials can't be beaten. If you're buying for a recipe that requires a specific amount of something, you can buy the exact amount which reduces both cost and waste. You will learn how much things cost, skillfully avoid overpaying and take joy in spotting a bargain.
3) There are actually staff there to help you. Recipe calling for something you've never heard of before? Ask, and you shall receive. Need a cheaper alternative? Get pointed in the right direction. Not sure how to cook something? No worries! They're is a specialist there to help! The great team behind the counter at our coffee spot know our order and when you tell the staff at the cheese shop what you're cooking they'll match it with the perfect cheese. You're buying from the owners who have a vested interest in your experience at their store.
4) Unless otherwise stated, you're buying produce from Australia. Don't be fooled by the ethnicity of the staff, you're eating Aussie and helping out local farmers. At Queen Vic in particular, some of the stalls have been run by the same family for over 100 years.
5) The produce is seasonal and there is a much wider variety available. We're lucky in Australia; because of our varied climates we can eat summer foods in winter which provides us with the opportunity to eat all the vitamins and minerals that we need to stay healthy. Produce that's in season is usually cheaper and helps us keep in touch with where our food comes from. You can try something new every trip and experience the flavours of cuisines that you wouldn't normally come across otherwise. $1 bag specials will even help you to get creative and learn new recipes.
6) It promotes healthy eating. You won't find any 2 minute noodles here! Nor will you find frozen meals or packets of chips. OK, there's chocolate, but dark chocolate is good for you...right?
7) You can avoid unnecessary packaging. Especially if you bring a trolley and re-usable containers.
8) You're part of history. You're shopping in a heritage building where millions have shopped and traded before you. It's exciting to see the traders change and evolve along with the demand.
9) And lastly, it's not just food on sale. Specialty stores offer a wide variety of products that are perfect for gifts or surprises. It's your one stop shop and a super time saver!
Give your local market a go. It might be for you. You might find that you like it for different reasons. All I know is that shopping at the market is less of a chore for us than a trip to the supermarket. Look out for us on a Sunday morning! Hey, we'll even take you around to our favourite spots!
Book your Queen Victoria Market Hunt & Gather Food Tour here: