For most sydneysiders, the act of grocery shopping extends as much to hitting the major supermarkets or its associated online shop for all their weekly shop. I’ve been chatting with Chef Milan Strbac about his food and also the topic of his weekly shop and where he’d heads to for the groceries for both his restaurants; Sugarcane in Coogee and Juicy Lucy Chicken in SurryHills. The answer; the Sydney Markets located in the inner city suburb of Flemington.
This morning, Milan drives by the Marlborough Hotel and picks me up. It is early and a little humid. To accommodate myself on this trip, I displace his regular staffer on the trip in his rental mini van to the Markets and yes, there’s a bit of heavy lifting happening; we’re heading out at 3AM on a Tuesday. Tuesdays according to Milan is a lot less busy than the Monday where the majority of Sydney’s restaurants will swing in for their produce – you’ll see from the pictures that we pretty much have the markets to ourselves and the attention of the grocers all to ourselves. The experience is surreal with zipping forklifts racing round the markets driven by skilled technicians. It’s quite the sight really watching them operate in an almost ballet like precision.
Stop 1, a dedicated Spuds vendor who have dressed up their stall with various wooden panels lending this stall a particularly cabin like feel; most of the stalls in the venue tend to be utilitarian and brightly lit by fluros. Also, here garlic, onions and ginger. All manners of potato are here and its alwasy interesting to see the diversity in the range. From Coliban, Kipfler, Pontiacs to Kestrel.
A dazzling array of summer fruits and tomatoes beckon as we wander across the Sydney Markets – Fresh and Seasonal; The colours call out to me. This assorted array of beautiful fruit just laying there in abundance. Couldn’t believe how much of it there was. Out the back where they were loading, boxes and boxes of more produce. Here, stone fruits, perfect peachs, beautiful summer cherries and a box of lovely limes. I netted a box of the limes and mangoes for personal consumption as the prices were fantastic – it was peak Mango season and a whole box was $25. What a way to kick of Mango Season when all the stores had them for $4 each. Daiquiris with both – Mango and Lime Daiquiris. Love Mangoes so much. Probably my favourite fruit ever.
This was about the time of the controversial Bernard Salt commentary on housing prices and Australian Citizenry not saving properly because of “Avocado economics” – When we wandered past here, I had a chuckle. This extensively huge stall which sold nothing but Australian avocados was the sight to behold. We reckon a woolhara mansion or 2? Jokes aside – this was quite wonderful. Save money, buy your own fresh Avocados from Brunshill.
“I have seen young people order smashed avocado with crumbled feta on five-grain toasted bread at $22 a pop and more” – Bernard Salt
Milan takes me to his favourite stall at the Sydney Market: Southern cross produce. They sell a diverse array of fruits and it is clear here and elsewhere that Milan’s developed a long term relationship with these grocers over the many years he has been in the business. The banter about pricing and the freshness of produce is not something you’d readily have with your supermarket employee. Here a couple of boxes of blood orange and lemons for Sugarcane’s Blood Orange and Chicken dish. Southern Cross Produce also sells a variety of bottled juices and coconut waters.
Export Fresh was one of the stalls that impressed me the most. Dedicated to selling micro herbs, from baby basil, purple basil, shiso red to pea shoots, its the one that surprised and delighted as you never see these in the supermarkets. They also sell edible flowers which is also hard to find. Particularly entrancing is the fact that all these seedlings looked really quite delicate and fresh. It pretty much doesn’t get any better than from here.
Sugarcane is a modern Asian/Thai Restaurant and we wander over to the Asian Grocer section. Here, you can grab the ingredients by the handful and fill plastic bags. From lovely small round thai eggplants (beautiful eating in a thai curry), to plump chillis, lemongrass, asian eggplants and bittergourd, it was all here.
.Across the main street of stalls housed under the large market halls, there is a large hanger like produce space where more produce can be had. We chance some beautiful artichokes, chokes, and the mushroom vendor at the far end. We’re at the end of Milan’s shop and its about an hour and a half of zig zagging across the markets. There’s a lot on offer here and the diversity and array of produce at the excellent wholesale prices which most consumers aren’t privy to. Our chef led “work trip” of the Sydney Market finishes here and I see why Milan shops here and how he brings his young chefs here to get them familiar with sourcing the ingredients.
I shop for hand picked quality, good pricing and most importantly I can keep an eye on what’s coming in and out of seasons”
With an amazing array of produce, wholesale pricing and an astonishing array on offer, The Flemington Markets is definitely worth checking into. Tuesdays are a good bet for most visitors – there was hardly anyone around and you will get the grocers full attention. Consider that Milan’s top tip for visiting. And now you know. Fresh produce from independent Grocers.