Sydney: Wonderfully Overpriced Markets

What does the word market conjure up in your mind?

A bustling centre of commerce with buyers and sellers haggling and crowds jostling?

A wet, dirty place wafting with the smells of fish, vegetables and meat?

A worn-down location to find cheap produce and goods, with a clientele dressed as if they just woke up?

Well, the markets in Sydney are anything but.

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My first encounter with Sydney’s markets came on the third day of the trip, at the busy pedestrianised end of Oxford St leading to Bonji Junction. It was a small market, with probably no more than 25 stalls. The goods on sale were mostly along the lines of fresh flowers, vegetables, cooked food and home-made stuff like artisan breads, honey, chocolate and accessories.

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Guidebooks really don’t prepare you for the shock you get when you walk into one of these markets and check out what’s on offer.

Here’s an example of the prices at the market at Bondi Junction:

Loaves of bread, baguettes and such retail from AUD$4 ($5.20)

A small box of Ethiopian food consisting of about 2 dishes and rice goes from AUD$8

Prices of fashion accessories and knick-knacks start from AUD$10

I could barely afford this:

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Spinach, cheese and minced chicken Turkish Gozleme (AUD$7.50)

And yes, in case you’re wondering, it does look and taste similar to the roti pratas we get in Singapore, just that its ten times more expensive and stuffed with a little more ingredients than the ones back home.

Oh well, at least I tried something that sounded exotic.

The queue for the Turkish Gozleme stretched more than 20 people, and the stall had to give out number tags. Had plenty of time to look around the market whilst waiting for my number to be called.

Ended up purchasing a bottle of homemade honey (AUD$5).

But I haven’t seen the end of markets in Sydney yet.

On a hot Saturday, I went to Paddington Markets (395 Oxford St, Paddington, http://www.paddingtonmarkets.com.au) and just when I thought it couldn’t get more expensive, this was much more upmarket.

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The market is located in the affluent suburb of Paddington, and is held every Saturday in the premises of a church along Oxford St, Sydney’s premier shopping street (above picture).

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It sells a wide variety of things. There are plenty of clothes (mostly around AUD$40-50 each), and, somewhat surprisingly, more than a few stalls selling homemade soaps (about AUD$5 per piece). There was even a stall selling a special sports headband with in-built earphones which you can wear around your head and listen to music whilst running (AUD$50).

Particularly interesting was the strong presence of shops selling arts and crafts, like beautifully-composed photographs and paintings (AUD$20 and above), handmadenotebooks and diaries (AUD$25-$40), coasters (AUD$5) and more. Not the kind that you get in Chatuchak market in Bangkok, these are obviously of a much higher-quality and not factory-produced. The appeal is clear: good-quality, excellent hand-made crafts with a strong individualistic streak, stripped of pretence. Clearly unaffordable for a budget traveller like me, but it was great fun to wander around and check out the intricate designs and decorations all the same.

An impulse buy that blew my budget was a gift pack ofDelicatessen’s chocolates (AUD$25 for 4 80g packets). These tasted so lovely when I tried them at the stall, and perhaps already used to astronomical price tags by then, I just knew I had to buy them. I loved the unique flavours like chilli bark, peppercorn, coffee and guinea fig, but regret ensued after I later walked past a chocolate store somewhere else with more affordable candy in the AUD$5-10 range.

Clearly this is one market where you have to constantly watch your budget.

There is, however, a single market in Sydney where you can get extremely cheap stuff:

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Paddy’s Market (basement of Market City, 9-13 Hay St, Haymarket, just off Chinatown, http://www.paddysmarkets.com.au).

What is it like? Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of the interior. But just imagine Bugis Street or Chatuchak with hundreds of stalls selling the same tourist kitsch (AUD$2 to $10) like stuffed kangaroos, Australian flags, koala bear magnets, Opera House/Harbour Bridge/Sydney Tower replicas, fake rolexes and “I love Sydney” T-shirts and you wouldn’t be far off. Its pretty packed too, with throngs of Chinese nationals and Koreans. I do however find it too over-the-top in Aussie kitsch and stereotypical souveniours and left without buying anything.

For a unique shopping experience, I’d say skip Paddy’s and go to Paddington, but a word of advice: do try to control your spending.