Adelaide’s Central Market is a sensory delight where visitors can sniff and taste their way around an endless array of multicultural gourmet delights.
The South Australian capital may be the city of churches, but some of the goods in Adelaide Central Market sound positively risqué. Prepare to encounter stud muffins, loose navels and smooth Brazilians. That’s raisin-studded muffins, oranges and a variety of coffee bean in plain English. But plain English isn’t something you should count on in the aisles of this marvellous market.
Opening image: Dough, Adelaide Central Market. Image: South Australian Tourism Commission
An international affair
This is a microcosm of modern Australia. You’ll meet Vietnamese fruiterers, Malaysian noodle-makers and Italian grocers who gesticulate behind bowls of green olives and great dangling salamis. The fishmonger must be Greek. A Hellenic Football Federation banner hangs above the barramundi and sulking crabs, claws tied with green twine.
The goods on sale are just as multicultural as their vendors. In its bakeries, you can buy Lebanese pita, Turkish pide, Greek pretzels and dark German pumpernickel bread. At the grocery stands, take your pick of sedate Swiss mushrooms, intense Italian porcinis or crunchy Japanese enoki mushrooms.
You’ll find plenty of competition from some wonderful Australian offerings as well. Look out for traditional cloth cheddar from Tasmania and free-range eggs from Kangaroo Island. Not to mention the huge barrels of olives from Mildura, pungent with the scent of rosemary and lavender.
Tasting local life at Adelaide Central Market
With over 200 stalls, Adelaide Central Market is Australia’s largest fresh-produce market and caters primarily to local shoppers. But with plenty of take-away food and coffee stands, visitors have plenty of reason to head here too. In fact, with 1.3 million visitors annually, Central Market is among South Australia’s most popular tourist attractions.
Even if you’re on holiday and not intending to cook, make your way here for a stickybeak. Adelaide Central Market is a glorious visual, tactile and taste experience. Fruit and vegetables are piled in ziggurats of colour, melons slashed in half to expose luscious pink flesh, and capsicums polished to a red sheen. Grapes sit gleaming in silver bowls to tempt passers-by. Slivers of cheese are held on the end of knives long as your forearm. Take a deep inhale of the aromas of salty mussels, roasting coffee, oozing blue cheeses and newly-risen scones.
150 years of market history
Located between Grote and Gougar Streets in the city centre, the market is also an historic landmark. It was established back in 1869. The present Grote Street façade dates from 1900, while the rest was mostly redeveloped after a fire in the 1970s.
Remarkably, some stalls have been run by the same families for generations. The McMahons have sold fruit and vegetables here since 1923, and the Charlesworths started their nuts and dried fruit business in 1932. The Old Lolly Shop has been around since 1906. It still sells old-fashioned peanut brittle, bullseyes, sherbet bombs and spearmint drops from bygone eras. And in 1957, Lucia’s Pizza & Spaghetti Bar introduced pizzas to Adelaide’s doubtful citizens. Their signature olive, anchovy and mozzarella pizza remains just as enticing today, even if it doesn’t seem quite as exotic.
Adelaide Central Market novelties are still changing mainstream eating habits. The now common baguette sandwich was first pioneered in Adelaide in the Central Market. Many other unusual foodstuffs now taken for granted on Adelaide restaurant menus were introduced through these market stalls, from olives to shitake mushrooms and specialised coffee blends.
Weird and wonderful finds at Adelaide Central Market
One of the delights of Central Market is that this education of the palate is still a work in progress. There are goods here – such as rabbit and pheasant – seldom spotted in mainstream stores. There are fruits with strange names (try persimmons and zirzats) and more varieties of pear than you ever knew existed, from nashi and Packham to Adelaide Hills sweet duchess. And if you don’t know what Berents fine-texture Helegrantor is, this is your chance to find out.
Even the relatively ordinary is displayed with a passion. Candied orange peel and sugared pineapple discs gleam, sacks burst with fat chickpeas and eggplants are plump as bowling balls. Sweet young courgettes come with blossoms still attached – proof of their freshness, and a treat in themselves when fried. Plucked quails lie in rows with their legs in the air. Glorious lemons appear in a stack like the treasure trove of an Arabian palace.
Stop off at Cappos’ Fish Market – another multigenerational institution, founded by six brothers in 1919. Inspect the rust-red squid, coral-fish pink as marble, mussels with hairy shells piled high in baskets, and slippery green fish shimmering with phosphorescence. If you need a tip on how to cook jewfish, you only have to ask.
A quintessential Adelaide experience
When you’ve had your shopping fill, retreat to one of the cafés that line the perimeter of the market building. Listen to the banter as vendors call out at the top of their voices, crack a joke with a neighbour, and chat to passing old ladies.
After a stud muffin and smooth Brazilian at a café, it would be hard to resist a final encounter with a naked sausage: the nickname for a variety otherwise known as chevapcici. Okay, so maybe you won’t be able to pronounce it, or know where it comes from – Serbia – but that’s why Adelaide Central Market is so wonderful. Find out about meat-stuffed pancakes from Kazakhstan, and American cheese, and hariss from Morocco. Just tuck it all into your bag and bring them home to your kitchen, and enjoy the world on a plate.
Find opening times, market updates and stall info at adelaidecentralmarket.com.au.
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