“Cukes for a dollar, five bags left.” “Lamb chops, perfect for the barbie tonight, 10 for $10 bucks, get ‘em while you can!”
It’s ten to three on a Saturday afternoon and the market vendors are auctioning off their food, bellowing out prices at the tops of their lungs. The market won’t be open again until Tuesday, and they need to sell off what won’t last until then. Some of them get poetic, most joke around, but they’re always charming.
Growing up in Adelaide, I had never thought that this didn’t happen at other markets, yet every time I go back to the Adelaide Central Market, I realize that I haven’t seen this done much outside of Australia, and I miss it. This auctioning off of food isn’t actually an Australian tradition. Back in the Mediterranean Middle Ages, subsistence farmers and fishermen would bring their surplus produce to the town to be able to pay their taxes, buy productive assets, send kids to school. They would then stay just long enough to be able to sell what they had on hand, and back home they’d then go. If something didn’t sell, they’d then reduce their prices at the end of the market day. It’s no wonder then that the Greeks at Samtass Seafoods are selling off their barramundi, the Italians their juicy-red tomatoes; it’s as if their ancestral ghosts are here with them today, whispering the best prices in their eager ears.
Just like in days gone by, when bazaars were established along trade routes, the Adelaide Central Market, known as “the heart of Adelaide”, is located in the middle of the city, attracting vendors from all over South Australia. Adelaide is also known for being one of the world’s best laid out cities, which makes the market easily accessible to its inhabitants whether they’re from the North, South, East or West of town.
I first visited the market as a little girl growing up in suburban Adelaide. Back then in the seventies, if you were an ethnic European immigrant, you had to make a small effort to get your goat cheese, prosciutto, and olives; so families like us, would seek out treasure troves like the Adelaide Central Market, as well as small specialty stores they then called, ‘Continental’ stores.
Back in those days, I was teased for my strange smelling lunch box, yet today, Australian cuisine, is in my own humble opinion, some of the world’s best, merging Asian, European and Middle Eastern flavors and fashions and of course taking advantage of the weather and therefore, long growing season.
So it’s no surprise that I have always felt at home in this place; at home with the late afternoon food auctioneers, more comfortable sitting on a chair in the middle of the market than in some swank, inner-city café. That’s the other thing about the market, much like the bazaars of the past, the market is chock full of rustic little cafes and restaurants. Old timers who have been coming to this market for decades meet up with friends for a cappuccino, a glass of vino. During my last visit, I met friends for lunch, as well as organized a family dinner, in the bordering Chinatown.
The market also remains affordable, when I first moved out of home, and having to live on an entry-level public servants income, I would walk over from the government office I was working at, and walk back with bags laden with Turkish pide, dips, cheeses, sour dough bread, that season’s honey from the Honey and Soap shoppe, fresh squid, octopus. I still remember the little yellow buckets of Kalamata olives from the Olive Tree, that I paid a friendly five dollars.
Probably instinctively knowing then that I would not stay in Adelaide forever, I would gravitate towards the Adelaide Central as if it was some type of home away from home, and now, whenever I go back, it still feels like a visiting a favorite old friend.
Salmon or Tuna tartare
For this blog, I have chosen a recipe, which I hope merges the recent trends of eating raw fish, plays homage to the habits of market vendors of yesteryear, as well making use of the fabulous fish available in South Australia. In the early days of the market or bazaar, not having the comforts of refrigeration, vendors would need to find innovative means in storing and preserving food. By adding spice and lemon juice to fish, it causes the proteins in the seafood to become denatured, as if being cooked. When buying your fish, make sure to let your fishmonger know it’s for tartare, or ask for sushi-grade fish, which is the freshest. (If I have time, I tend to freeze my fish first, which makes it easier to cut).
- 1 lb sushi-grade Tuna or Salmon
- 2 tablespoons extra-Virgin olive oil (or sesame oil)
- 2 tablespoons of capers finely chopped
- 1 finely chopped shallot or 2 finely chopped green onions
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, or 1 small chilli pepper, chopped finely (seeds removed)
- Juice of 2 lemons or 2 limes
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to season, taste
- A smidgen of wasabi paste or a little horseradish for extra kick
Chop the fish into very small pieces. Place in a large bowl and mix in the rest of the ingredientss. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you want the mixture to really absorb the ingredients, place in the fridge for an hour.
Garnish with more lemon or lime wedges and some slices of avocado. (If serving for a special ocassion, cut out a square piece of nori roll paper, put a round cookie cutter on the nori, fill the mould with the tartare, lift off mould to leave a perfect size of tartare). Enjoy et Bon Appétit!