One easy (and tasty) way to get to know a country while on holiday is to hit several of its bustling marketplaces.
Maybe you would like to get some cheddar in a cold room full of cheese, stopping along the way to slurp down some freshly-shucked oysters or take in the free smells while waiting to get your hands on some buttery hot pies.
What about shopping for a couple of handmade jewellery or one-of-a-kind fashion pieces or, perhaps, even getting your eyebrows threaded!
If it’s a slice of local living you’re looking to experience, then make your way to the historic South Melbourne Market in Victoria’s City of Port Phillip.
Every nook and corner is occupied by merchants and stalls selling cute craft, each guarding its own ordinary story that sometimes can turn out to be the more meaningful gift or personal memento.
Depending on what time you pay this iconic Australian marketplace a visit, a little tiptoeing around patrons holding bags filled with whatever fresh produce on sale that day is to be expected.
Yet, the atmosphere is still airy, the liveliness fuelled by having your senses imbued by all the new sights, smells, and sounds.
Think Pac-Man’s maze, but instead of charging ghosts, your appetite for (mostly) food and special finds is the monstrosity that draws you to consume your way through the marketplace.
The South Melbourne Market opens every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, from 8am to 4pm, except on Fridays when closing time is extended an hour.
And if you ever need a map to get around this maze, drop by its office that doubles as an information counter located within the market.
Despite the unavoidable all-day snacking on pastries, vegetable dips, skewered charred meat and seafood, or sweets while wandering through lanes that also reveal potted plants, woven net bags, and ceramic homeware for sale, the diverse gastronomic affair the place offers will leave you eager for more.
Foot traffic in the market naturally intensifies come brunch or lunchtime, and the decision to settle on a place to park your precious haul, and by now, tickled appetite, will likely be the hardest attempt at anything you do that day.
While scores of eateries line the surrounding exterior of the market’s building, look no further than the market walls, at the corner between York and Cecil Street, where you will find Claypots Evening Star, one of the market’s many highlights.
Serving up fresh and hearty Mediterranean-inspired grub from the sea, the delicious smells wafting from the open kitchen make this stop at stall 101 an easy one.
Foodies might be familiar with its sister restaurant, Claypots St Kilda that its founder, Renan Goksin, opened in 1997.
There is even a Claypots in Singapore called Claypots Full Circle, opened by a group of entrepreneurs who used to enjoy the restaurant’s food while studying in Melbourne, and who sent Goksin a message indicating an interest in working together.
Thick cuts of octopus, prawns, scallops, lobsters, cooked to perfection are what awaits you here at Claypots Evening Star, with plenty of crusty bread to soak up the flavourful sauce blend of herbs and spices.
Open every day from 11am to 11pm, lingering till dark will grant you a good time with your travel company while you sip wine, some ice-cold beer or enjoy a panna cotta dessert, as live music plays in the background.
The writer’s Australian adventure was courtesy of Visit Victoria together with AirAsia X.