Secret #1: You can avoid the weekend crush.
Do your fresh food shopping at the Sydney Markets at Flemington on a Friday, if you have time on Friday.
Secret #2: The market is markedly different at different times.
Match your shopper type to the right market mood. Your shopping trip will be more rewarding. And perhaps less harrowing.
The Flemington Markets take on these guises and more:
- The Glorious Markets…all beautiful and pristine.
- The Furious Markets…on a cocktail of Red Bull and Lance Armstrong’s finest.
- The Sedate Markets…on Valium.
Secret #3: The magic hour for the Markets is 6.00am on Saturdays.
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So, what type of shopper are you?
- An exploring epicure?
- A ballsy bargain-hunter?
- Or just the no-nonsense Get-Through-The-List, I’m-Already-Late type?
Glorious Sydney Markets – Saturday 6am – for the Exploring Epicure
The Exploring Epicure:
- likes making informed decisions by browsing every stall; and
- wants restaurant-quality produce, and will pay top dollar for it. Mind you, “top dollar” at the Markets is still outstanding value compared to the local duopolistic supermarkets.
- impeccably arranged fruit and veg,
- ample space to wander through the aisles,
- stallholders who are energetic, relaxed and cheerfully chatty, and
- the freshest, highest quality seasonal produce (eg Black Corinth grapes; 30mm alpha-cherries; tightly furled baby brussels sprouts).
By late morning, the top-shelf items like fresh almonds, banana flowers, freshly grated coconut, and the most fragrant strawberries will have been snapped up.
Nonetheless, unless you seek specific high-demand exotica, you’ll find a staggering range that will more than satisfy you, even if you arrive after 9am. Just factor in more time for traffic and parking.
“But is 6am early enough?” I hear you early birds chirp.
By all means, get there earlier on Saturdays. The doors will be open for you. My mate – a sturdy, softly-spoken Calabrian nonno – tells me he starts work at the stall around 3am. Even in winter.
You could be like my mentor of many years, The English Gentleman, who starts shopping at about 4am. Even in winter. While I’m still in bed dreaming of my next chilli crab, he would have:
- finished shopping,
- finished coffee at his favourite stall, and
- probably unloaded his dishwasher and vacuumed his car. And comprehensively analysed The Australian Financial Review Weekend Edition.
So, why my fixation on 6am?
- Naturally, there’s the sleep factor (I can only just handle waking up at 5.30am. Any earlier is unholy o’clock to me…my infant night-feed days are o-vaaah).
- Also, it’s still early enough to nab a few blossoms from the flower market.
Hang on, you say, what was that bit about parking and forklifts? Aha, good to see you’re paying attention.
6am is the magic hour. It is to forklifts what midnight is to Cinderella.
Parking in the Know
- You see, there are 3 long, sheltered bays at street level, just metres opposite the fresh food market. These are my favourite parking areas.
- Before 6am, those areas are reserved for forklifts.
- From 6am, those areas are open for public parking.
- By 7-ish, crowds increase. Parking gets harder.
At 6am every Saturday, an authoritative voice booms over the PA, asking all forklifts to leave the building. After that, noticeably fewer forklifts race around inside the fresh food market.
You might still encounter a few making deliveries, but browsing is much easier when one isn’t ducking and weaving between whizzing forklifts.
Sydney Markets Forklift Trivia
Furious, Frenzied Sydney Markets – Saturday noon – for the Ballsy Bargain-hunter
Sometimes life gets in the way of those 6am starts and I find myself at the Markets closer to noon instead.
Even before setting out, I’m already spent from being vanquished at boxing class, by the affable (but deadly) Ananda and the zen (but deadly) Andrew. The fault is mine: I make it there only once a week.
So I get home after class, fortify myself with caffeine-rich 2122 tea, and brace myself for:
- the deadly brew of Parramatta Road and soccer parents; and
- circling the carpark for half an hour, locating that elusive spot.
All of the above is not intended as a whinge. It serves as a warning. In corporate jargon, they call it “managing expectations”. The Markets can look like this:
But trust me, if you have the energy for this, it will be worth your while.
I invariably return home haggardly ecstatic, massaging my temples while crowing about my bargains to anyone within earshot – usually the hapless, captive M.O.T.H. (Man of the House).
From 12 noon on Saturday, closing time looms. The market is in Def Leppard (a British heavy metal rock band from last century) mode, meaning that:
- it’s frenzied, furious, loud and crowded…and headache-inducing, and
- stallholders are frantically clearing stock. As they say in Australian supermarket parlance:
A box of 20 cobs of corn for $5? A giant bag of 14 telegraph cucumbers for $2? A box of mushrooms for $5? Sold, sold and SOLD! All to the lady sporting the passé 1980s waistpouch! (They always call me “lady” at the markets, bless ’em.)
[Digression coming up] Singaporeans and Malaysians have one succinct word, lelong, to describe that exact situation of vendors lowering prices because home time is near (or because of a fire sale). It is pronounced lae-long, and may be used thus: “Lady, these are A-class mangoes. $4/kg is the lelong price already. This morning ah, they were $7/kg.”
The loveliest or most exotic produce may be gone by noon but, by golly, you can get phenomenal deals. This is especially useful if:
- you’re entertaining and need ripe fruit that tastes perfect on the day but won’t keep, or
- you want to foster neighbourly relations. What better way than to share food? What else would you do with 14 telegraph cucumbers anyway? That is, if you aren’t making cucumber kimchi….
Sedate Sydney Markets – Friday morning – for the No-nonsense Shopper
It was MOTH’s Turkish ex-colleague – a legendary cook – who first apprised us of the Markets’ retail fresh food section being open on Fridays. Nowadays, I go to the Markets on Friday after 10am if:
- I know I can’t rise early on Saturday,
- I don’t feel like fighting crowds,
- I don’t feel like stalking people who look like they may vacate their parking spot, and
- I’m not on a mission for weird and wonderful items.
On Fridays, the Markets are like Richard Clayderman’s elevator ballads – dependable and pleasant, but you wouldn’t get too fired up about them. (Psst…Clayderman’s real name is Philippe Pagès. He adopted the stage name so people wouldn’t mangle the pronunciation of Pagès. I can’t pronounce it either.)
Friday’s retail food section is half the size of that on Saturday. The fewer stalls are offset by the correspondingly smaller crowd. Parking is a breeze. My blood pressure stays constant, my nerves unfrayed.
Make no mistake, the fruit and veg are still fresh and well-priced on Fridays.
- King mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, enoki? Tick.
- Chinese greens? Tick.
Just don’t go looking for freshly squeezed coconut milk or 10 different herbs.
But I did manage to snag these bargains on a Friday:
My die-die-must-buy items
1. The cheapest free-range eggs in Sydney (I reckon)
I routinely pay $7.50 for a tray of 30 free-range eggs at the Markets. These eggs are the same size as those you find in the 700g carton of 12.
That works out to $3 per dozen. Supermarkets normally charge $4.50 to $6 for an equivalent dozen.
Buy 2 trays (60 eggs) and you’ll get a bulk discount on the bulk discount. Don’t laugh, I sometimes do. Some ways to use up 60 eggs:
2. Lebanese bread – $1 for 7 dinner plate-sized pieces
Look out for the Saturday stall selling canned food, dried goods and bread.
There’s Turkish bread for $2 which often sells out in the morning.
My pick? The $1 Lebanese bread. How the bakery makes money is beyond me. That’s 7 soft, dinner plate-sized pieces, in white or wholemeal, for a dollar.
Go on, sniff its comforting bready smell through the plastic bag. If this bread were any fresher, it’d be a victim of merciless ragging by university hostel residents.
HOT TIP: The white Lebanese bread stays soft for longer. It cracks less when rolled up the next day. Roll-ups are perfect for lunchboxes, eg with:
- omelette (especially when I have 60 eggs), hoisin sauce and cucumber,
- Vegemite, lots of cream cheese, pepper and grated carrot,
- hummous, smashed falafel and lettuce, or
- sheftalies and salad, like so:
[Another digression] Shefta-whaat…? Sheftalies are Cypriot meatballs wrapped in caul fat. Pronounced shef-taa-lee-es, they’re seasoned with herbs and spices. (BTW, these aren’t from Sydney Markets.) The caul fat melts when cooking to make a moist sausage.
But hey, a normal sausage and tomato sauce would work too.
Sydney Markets statistics
For location and opening hours of the Sydney Markets at Flemington, check their website.
For tips on shopping at the flower markets, have a look at The Love Assembly’s article.