Capturing 150 years of the Adelaide Central Market

A new book on the Adelaide Central Market by Katie Spain and Fiona Roberts is as much a snapshot of this moment in time as it is a history of the Market’s 150 years.

For Katie Spain, the regular journeys from the Coorong dairy farm where she grew up to the “big city” of Adelaide were memorable for many reasons. She recalls being awed by the traffic lights, the throngs of people and, perhaps most vividly of all, by the beating heart of Adelaide’s culinary scene.

“Granddad and Grandma would always take us to the Central Market and we’d just walk around and be gobsmacked,” she remembers. It was like nothing she’d ever seen before, a giant hall filled with all manner of fresh produce, unusual smells and vendors shouting the prices of their wares. The market has changed in the decades since then – more cafes and restaurants have made it their home and the hawkers are not quite as loud – but the essence of the place still remains and, for Spain, so does that initial feeling.

“I still feel like that when I go the market, I still feel beautifully overwhelmed by the buzz of it and the noise of it,” she says. “I just love people-watching and it’s a great place to feel that energy.”

Adelaide Central Market (Photo: Tom Roschi)

She’s had plenty of opportunities to feel that energy over the last two years as she’s captured the sights and sounds of the market for Adelaide Central Market: Stories, People & Recipes. In truth, the book has been a century-and-a-half in the making. It celebrates the 150th anniversary of the first market that took place on a vacant lot between Gouger and Grote Streets on January 23, 1869. Everything was sold out by 6am that day and an Adelaide institution was born.

Spain spent hundreds of hours interviewing subjects and going through handwritten records in the City Archives to create this book, which she produced in collaboration with Fiona Roberts. She describes the end-product as “a recipe book as well as a history piece and a piece on all of the existing traders … we’ve captured not just 150 years in history but a moment in time.” This point was reinforced when Spain spent six weeks walking the Camino Del Santiago last year and returned to find that new stalls had set up in her absence.

Each stall has an accompanying recipe, even those that don’t serve food like Photoco Camera House and Central Market Books. Within the pages of the book, the people behind some of the most iconic dishes in Adelaide give up their secrets – you can find recipes for Comida’s paella and Lucia’s minestrone. But perhaps the biggest coup of all is the recipe for the laksa that Charles Lo has been serving for 30 years at Asian Gourmet. Amazingly, it had never been recorded in that time, “so Fiona went in there and she literally had to watch him make it and then write it down. She said she felt so much pressure.”

Another 60 recipes come from local producers and chefs such as Simon Bryant, Maggie Beer and Matteo Carboni, and the broad nature of the collaborations emphasises just how all-important the Central Market is in Adelaide’s food scene.

Adelaide Central Market (Photo: Tom Roschi)
Adelaide Central Market (Photo: Tom Roschi)

When word got out about the project, Spain says she was “inundated” with letters and stories from the general public and subsequently “spent a lot of time sitting in people’s lounge rooms” doing interviews and hearing what the Central Market means to the people of Adelaide.

It’s hard to think of a similar institution that inspires warm praise and fond memories from such a broad cross-section of society, and Spain puts that down to the fact that every person in Adelaide feels as if the Central Market is, in some way, theirs.

“The general public feel a sense of ownership over the market. The [Central Market Authority] always refers to it as ‘our’ market and I think it’s true – we all feel a sense of not only love, but also a little bit of ownership and pride over it. The produce is great, it’s a great place to shop and be inspired, but it’s the people for me that make it, the people behind the counters.”

Adelaide Central Market: Stories, People & Recipes is out now through Wakefield Press

Header image:
Italo Vardaro

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