Melbourne: Fresh taste of the city (+photos)

By Kerri Jackson

Melbourne has many hearts. Collins and Bourke streets for shopping, St Kilda for seaside bohemia.

But it's also a city that runs on its stomach, and if you want a clue as to where the Melburnian passion for good food starts, Queen Victoria Market (QVM) is the place to go.

This bustling, impressive emporium, located on the edge of the CBD, has been feeding the city in various guises for 130-odd years. To understand all that is going on around you and what foodie treasures there are to be uncovered here, try the QVM Foodies Tour.

For A$30 ($35) for two hours, you'll get a knowledgeable guide for two hours to show you around - starting with the Meat Hall.

With about 20 butchers, 10 fishmongers and several fresh poultry traders, it's enough to make a vegetarian swoon.

But it's not as simple as rocking up and buying your chops.

As our guide points out, there are those butchers who specialise in particular cuts or types of meat. Others sell meat and cuts that suit particular cuisines, such as Italian or Chinese.

There is always a gentle, fairly good-natured (no Sweeney Todds here, thankfully), competition between market stallholders and this seems particularly true in the Meat Hall - must be something to do with all that red meat and the prevalence of carving knives.

The Meat Hall, our guide says, is also the first place where changes in Melbourne's immigrant cultures become visible.

But for us spectators it's time to leave the Meat Hall, all of us quietly craving a tasty barbecued banger.

Outside in the fresh air, though still undercover, we're met with one of the largest fresh fruit and vegetable markets I've ever seen - 80 stalls sprawling over four sheds. If you can't find what you're looking for here, it probably doesn't exist (or it's out of season).

Again the produce reflects Melbourne's cultural melting pot, and most stalls have tasting boxes balanced somewhere to let customers try before they buy.

Next it's off to the Deli Hall for my starving tour group - and that means it's sample time.

Your ticket price for the tour includes samples from several stalls and over the course of the next hour we sample some of the best cheeses, freshly made pasta, dips, olives, bread, deli meats, coffee, cakes and wines.

Walking around the Deli Hall is like stepping back to the market's earliest days. The stalls are all hung with wares for sale, and are housed in what was built as the market's Dairy Produce Hall. It's filled with marble counters and carefully designed windows. Aside from the hustle and bustle of foodies buying treats, it's almost a living museum.

The tour ends in the Deli Hall, but I'd recommend another circuit of the whole market, this time with your wallet out. If you're any kind of foodie, you won't come out empty-handed nor will you come out with an empty stomach.

Kerri Jackson travelled to Melbourne courtesy of Tourism Victoria.

IF YOU GO
If you're planning a market visit, consider staying at the new and very stylish Jasper Hotel on Elizabeth St. It's a two-minute walk to the market and the rest of Melbourne's world class central-city shopping is just a five-minute walk in the other direction.

For exploring further afield, there's a tram stop about 20m from the hotel, and buses and trains a couple of hundred metres beyond that.

The four-star hotel was renamed and re-opened in 2006 after a $4.5 million facelift which has left its 65 rooms looking very sleek and sophisticated. As well as a pool and sauna, the hotel offers in-room spa treatments and the Jasper Kitchen cafe offers the kind of delicious food everybody expects from a trip to Melbourne.

Jasper Hotel

The Queen Victoria Market (QVM) two-hour Foodie Tour departs every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 69 Victoria St. It costs A$30 ($35), which includes plenty of samples from market stallholders, a coffee and a shopping bag. Bookings are essential. The market also runs heritage tours, focusing on the market's history, a multicultural tour and seasonal Christmas shopping tours.

Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday QVM hosts a wine market featuring boutique wines and foods from around Victoria.

See qvm.com.au

- Herald on Sunday

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