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International students’ survival guide to Melbourne Part 3: Shopping and eating

Carene Chong

Thu Mar 14 2013


CARENE Chong shares her tips on how to shop, eat and drink well in Melbourne without breaking the budget.

It took me quite a while to get this right, but after years of living in this city and after countless tips from different people, I have perfected the art of shopping cheap. It’s just a matter of looking in the right places and shopping at the right time.

Queen Victoria Market in North Melbourne has fresh grocery at fantastic prices. So if you want to save money, it’s a no brainer to get your food there and cook at home. But, did you know where you shop and when could have a substantial effect on your wallet?

Most people I know just stop at the main fruit and vegetable pavilion to the south of the market, snap up all their groceries and think they’ve got the best bargains. But if you head slightly north into the section where the souvenirs and clothes are, you’ll find groceries that are fresher and cheaper, sometimes up to a few dollars less per kilo.

And if you shop later in the day on certain days, especially on a Sunday, meat and fish are sold at half price or less as butchers and fishmongers try to clear their stock before the market closes.

Further afield, Footscray Market is another popular destination for fresh and extremely affordable produce. If you don’t mind the commute, it’s just four stations away from Melbourne Central by train.

Related story: Footscray Market, where cheap and good meets

As for all the things you can’t buy at the market, my advice is to steer clear of the big brands. At the Aldi supermarket on Franklin St, you’ll find everything you need for a fraction of the price offered by the major supermarkets Coles and Woolworths.

Aldi mostly sells its own brand of food products, but it’s just as good as the brands you know. You can also get some big name brands here for less than at the other supermarkets.

Haggling isn’t really done in Australia especially if you’re shopping at outlets or major shopping centres. Prices are fixed at most places anyway, so there isn’t anything you can do. Markets might give you some leeway, but it’s not common place to haggle.

In most stores, you can return goods and get a refund or exchange on anything you buy. This is as long as the tags are intact, the product hasn’t been used or worn and you have a receipt. You can do this if something is faulty, doesn’t fit or even if you simply change your mind. No questions asked.

Eating out: Hidden is golden and know your coffee

Melbourne is known as a melting pot of cultures and cuisines. The food here is pretty authentic too, as long as you know where to go. Often, the more hidden a cafe is, the better and more popular the food or coffee is.

In my home country, Malaysia, if a restaurant or coffee shop is hidden, it’s probably likely dodgy. But in Melbourne, you’ll be delighted at what you find tucked away in an alleyway with no proper signage or indication.

And it’s not just food either. It wasn’t until I came to Melbourne that I really started appreciating coffee and the incredible varieties available. Melburnians take their coffee seriously. Every corner of the city is perfumed with the smell of freshly ground coffee.

Back home it was just coffee with or without milk, but over here you can get a latte and cappuccino, long black, Americano, affogato, macchiato, flavoured coffee and about ten other different types. If you’re feeling a little lost as to what to order at a cafe, here’s a good guide to espresso-based coffee by the folks at Tomato.

Bear in mind that you can also tailor your coffee to your own tastes. Decaf, soy, sweetener instead of sugar, extra strong, weak, and extra hot, most cafes are happy to accommodate your choices.

When the barista asks you if you want any sugar, don’t answer, ‘Yes please’. It took me a while to work out that’s not the right answer. What they actually want to know is how many teaspoonfuls of sugar you want in your coffee.

And one more thing, when the barista asks you if you want any sugar, don’t answer, ‘Yes please’. It took me a while to work out that’s not the right answer. What they actually want to know is how many teaspoonfuls of sugar you want in your coffee. So “one sugar” is one teaspoon of sugar, “two sugars” would be two teaspoons and so on.

It is also useful to note that some foods might have a different name to what you’re used to back home. For example, Aussies say chips instead of french fries, lollies instead of sweets, crisps instead of potato chips and lemonade is 7-Up. Here’s a useful list to help you understand Aussie food slang.

Looking for more tips? Read part one of our survival guide on getting to Melbourne, and part two on getting around Melbourne.