I don’t always manage to make it home for Christmas. One year, I spent it on a Phnom Penh rooftop, where my then boss kindly invited a group of us “orphaned” expats over for charcoal chicken. We ate that chook with our bare hands, and still today, it must be the most delicious chicken I’ve ever eaten. A few years before, some friends and I took a boat out to the Great Barrier Reef, and later, grilled the barramundi we had caught that day for Christmas dinner. We slept under the stars, keeping a watchful eye out for sights of sleighs and sounds of bells.
This year, knee deep in Masters studies, I am staying put in Montreal, yet walking around our local market, it got me thinking about what my friends back home and elsewhere are doing at this time of the year. This blog has been written by a few of them. Talya, a writer and performer who creates work for live performance, seems to have traded places with me, as she hails from Montreal, yet is married to an Australian. Today, she takes us to the Eveleigh markets in Sydney. Christine, who works for the United Nations Environmental Programme in Montreal, has gone home to the land of the wide smile, her native Honduras. Aurore, a Nurse, spends a great part of her year in some of the most impoverished places in the world, this year she has worked in Uganda as well as Ethiopia, but when she’s not travelling, she’s home in tropical Martinique. Another trip back to Australia and we visit Lucy, a Yoga teacher who is busy getting ready for her summer Yoga classes in Port Lonsdale, Victoria. But before that, she shows us the faces and the finest at Queen Victoria Market. Once having lived in Italy, Lucy also shows us how to make Caponata! Thank you so much ladies, this was a wonderful Christmas treat!
Merry Christmas everybody and enjoy this very special blog!
Talya, Eveleigh Markets, Sydney, Australia
Sydney is a city of villages made up of neighbourhoods with their own unique character, each one hosting a market or two. Rozelle is known for antiques, Glebe for clothes and Paddington for crafts. This morning, on the day before Christmas, I head to the Eveleigh Markets, a tiny suburb sandwiched between Newtown (known for its funky shops and cafes and artist population) and Redfern (known for its high density Indigenous population). Australia has a reputation for its fresh, local produce, a long growing season and rich foodie culture, and this market fits the bill. Located in a refurbished tin shed structure (once a blacksmiths workshop) this is a specialty farmers market with a focus on organic, sustainable and local produce and artisan food products.
When I arrive, the markets are bustling with shoppers running last minute errands and putting finishing touches on their Christmas lunch menus. Stalls are set up like a traditional farmers market, some with a bounty of organic fruit and vegetables, others are more specialised: there is one selling hand-made ice cream sandwiches, a stall devoted entirely to exotic mushrooms like enoki, shameji and wood ear, an older Italian man sells zucchini flowers and zucchini products.
At one of the many dairy stalls, I am given some samples of hand churned European style butter and the woman serving me says once I’ve tried it, I’ll never go back. They’re from a farm the Southern Highlands of NSW, called Small Cow Farm, where they’ve been producing award-winning cheeses since 2005. Another dairy farmer stops me to sample their wares, this one from Binnorie Dairy in the Hunter Valley. I try a goat’s cheese in ash, one in rind and one plain – the cheese is served on wooden popsicle sticks and has a light, sweet flavour that is fresh and clean, no goat’s milk after taste. Several stalls are cooking up food. The famous Sydney restaurant Billy Kwong in Surry Hills is here. Known for their sustainable and ethical practices and knock out food, celebrity chef and owner, Kylie Kwong, is nestled behind the counter lending clout to the food they’re preparing.
As I get ready to go I am accosted by an olive oil producer, who presses Italian style extra virgin olive oil from the trees on their farm. “I’ve been here since 5am,” she says to me looking slightly frantic. Clearly buzzing from the Christmas rush and early start, she encourages me to take “a shot” of olive oil with her. We down the oil from tiny plastic cups and I feel like I am participating in something illicit. “It’s so good, you can drink it. It’s good for you. We imported the trees from Tuscany. We’re from Griffith, mate.” She finishes her sentence with an exaggerated Italian-Australian accent, making fun of herself in a way that is uniquely Australian. I make my way out to the strains of a busker on harmonica playing “O Tannenbaum” and the smells of the market sausage sizzle and food stalls wafting away behind me.
This local market in Tegucigalpa, Honduras and only happens on Fridays and Saturdays and is a space dedicated to peasant farmers that come from the countryside into the city to sell their produce. As you make your way through the stalls, rowdy Christmas music blasts through the fragile speaker system; farmers yell out their bargains and all sorts of odors permeate the air. Its really lovely.
And although Honduras is slowly falling to its knees with violence and insecurity, the spirit of Christmas was very present in Feria del Agricultor, and with wide, curious smiles, I was reminded of the humility and friendliness of my people.
Aurore, Saint-Pierre marché, Martinique
Saint-Pierre’s market is known for its rich and alluring colours, and also for the animated folk that gather there. In keeping with the name we were once given by the French, “Le petit Paris des Antilles” —the Saint-Pierre market is small, but no less grand.
So although small, I love it as I was almost born inside. As a girl, I was the youngest vendor in Saint-Pierre, proudly selling my father’s produce!
Located on the seafront, fishermen bring in their freshly caught tuna, swordfish, bream or flying fish depending on both the season and nature’s moods… I have my favourite merchant, a woman who has been worked hard all her life but never lost her very gentle smile. Close to her stand, I know I’ll find some great coconut. I love this stuff, especially coconut water – it’s actually one of the healthiest drinks in the world. Its composition is isotonic; it’s mineral concentration very close to our own plasma. This little miracle safely cocooned in the hardy coconut shell that keeps it sterile has actually saved lives by being administered through an IV drip, especially during scarcity and war times.
Tomorrow on Christmas Eve, besides the usual fruit and vegetables, there will probably be some Alexandra, not my friend, but a Christmas drink made from local rum, milk, grenadine, vanilla, cinnamon, and other secret spices that make it unique. There may also be some flowers for sale – especially anthuriums and birds of paradise. I’ll be sure to find some dasheens, yellow plantain, sweet potatoes and other tropical treasures. On Christmas, most locals will be sure to add some pigeon pea and yams to their market baskets. Add to the peas and yams some salted pâtés, pork fricassee, Creole black pudding, Punch coco (another rum-based drink with coconut milk), and you’ll have your typical Christmas meal from Martinique! If you visit us during Easter, you’ll also find crabs: the market moves with both nature as well as man’s rhythms. Having grown up in this market, I’ll be sure to visit one of my oldest friends, a Martinican-Indian friend; she’s been working there for years and years and is almost part of the décor. There would be something missing if I failed to do so. As usual, she’ll scold me for not coming more often and then make me taste some fruit from her own garden. Then, like always, I’ll fill my bags until I can’t carry anything more, but I’ll manage, I’ve done it like this for a lifetime, why would things change now?
Lucy, Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne, Australia
I wanted to make a caponata (see recipe below). This is a southern italian dish that delights me mostly because of the amount of olive oil, which is enough to power a small vehicle…!
So on Friday 23rd, I went the biggest market in central Melbourne city – the Queen Victoria Market. The market sells everything from live chickens, to dodgy leather handbags, cheap clothing, (yes, I overheard someone saying: “you could have got your trackie dacks here love.” Pure Australian moment of class.) and of course – FOOD! I usually do organics but this time I bought a mix of the two.
Its summer so at the market the grapes, stonefruit, mangoes and tommies are all grinning
And the avocados, Gods butter.
So I decided to make a simple spinach, lettuce and avocado salad, as well as the caponata to take to Chris’s parents (my ex-in-laws -!) for Xmas eve dinner (which I will probably sprinkle with toasted nuts and seeds).
My fruity 3 year old loves pineapple so there was no going past that either.
From this lovely lady I got my basics for the caponata: Celery, eggplant, capsicum (red and green) and onions.
Eggs, just because I can’t go the market and not buy eggs.!
This is the organic section of the market, where I went to get my salad and leafy greens.I bought spinach and rocket and lettuce mix. [These things are normally grown by me at home but I am not there yet in my current adode – my small garden gives me silverbeet and tomatoes and basil, so far…]
There is also a wonderful deli section of the Vic market, quite possibly my favourite part. I have spent years wandering though this as I used to live close by and pick up snacks on the way home. The nut man still remembers me, and the same faces are all there after ten years.
Yesterday I bought some King Island Blue cheese and Camembert as some gifts for the Christmas spread. Also some olives for the caponata, and stocked up on some more olive oil – of course!
And I bought a poinsettia , as a gift for the ex-in-laws..its the perfect present when you don’t know what to give. So festive and feel-good.
…and finally if you’re not into taking fresh roo meat home to eat you can also take one home to cuddle.. 🙂