by Chalsie Mew
If you live in Melbourne, it’s probably safe to say you rarely visit the Queen Victoria Market. You probably don’t even know about its history. Well, I certainly didn’t! I was surprised to find out that Melbourne’s Queen Vic Market has a strange past: from fruit and veg produce gang shootings (now there’s a picture), to building a car park on top of Melbourne’s oldest cemetery, this market has been busy since its origins in the 1800s.
My earliest memory of the market was visiting once a month with my mum, it was fascinating at a young age. The crowds, the food vendors, the city – the donuts! I thoroughly enjoyed it. Fast forward to my teen years, I remember wandering around the Vic Market with my closest friends. We never bought anything, we just wandered around, killing time. The truth is that the market to a Melbournian, is more of a tourist attraction than your Sunday morning ritual.
That is, until the Vic Market hosts an event. Then things start to warm up, literally!
Every Wednesday of July and August from 5pm-10pm, the market lights up for its annual Night Market. A winter themed market – because let’s face it, Melbourne’s icy this time of year! The warehouse is filled with food vendors, live music, open fires and art instalments. People from all over crowd into the transformed space and smells of smoke and food fill the night air. The sparse warehouse is no longer, now all warmth and cosy feelings (you know the kind), making it the perfect way to spend a crisp Wednesday night.
Upon arrival you are welcomed by an array of lights filling the sky with a warm red hue. Large fire pits sit throughout the warehouse, warming those seeking refuge from the cool night air. A large Melbourne sign illuminates at the Elizabeth Street entrance. You’re offered key rings and paper to write down what you love most about Melbourne and then place your notes on the sign. It had me thinking about this city I call home, and my bittersweet relationship with it.
Inside the warehouse seating is readily available for hungry citizens. All of the food and drink available is wonderfully winter themed, reminding me of the winter night markets in Europe. The familiar smells of mulled wine and burning logs on the fire take me to my happy place.
We started our food experience with some sought after mulled wine. Warm and spicy, just how we like it, it turned our cheeks to a tepid shade of pink. The paper cups warmed our hands while we sat on a few stacked pallets facing a fire. Our breath was visible in the air.
The mulled wine got our bellies roaring for some hearty food. Name any style of winter food and I bet you it was on offer! It was like our international food days in primary school, except with less nibblies and more meals. One food vendor that really stood out was soup offered in a large round roll.
Lines were long, but no one really minded. Everyone was in a state of bliss from the smokey fumes and dull lighting.
Times like these, it’s best to try something you wouldn’t normally eat. Instead of ordering our favourite crêpe avec chocolat et la fraises, we joined the largest line and waited for what was at the end of it. The line wound around other vendors, making people curious to find out what was on offer. We all waited patiently, as one by one, we made our way to order. There stood a beautiful nona, serving creme brûlée. One bite and we were floating. These simple creme brûlées were absolutely delicious and the best way to end our night market experience.
Content, we floated out of the hazy fog into the cool night air with our full bellies. There had been something so carefree about the space, I was surprise at how sharing this experience with so many others in such a confined space could be so pleasant. By day, the market is frustrating; fast passed and jagged. But once the sun sets and the temperature drops, the space warms up with smoke, food and sombre lighting. Leaving the warehouse we all began to walk at the same pace.
All photos by Chalsie Mew.