Night Noodle Markets 2016: it takes balls – and a few tricks – to feed Melbourne's hungry hordes

Melissa Singer
Peking duck loaded fries from Bao Stop at the Night Noodle Markets.
Peking duck loaded fries from Bao Stop at the Night Noodle Markets. Photo: Supplied

It takes balls, 10,000 to be more specific, to feed tens of thousands of hungry Melburnians at an outdoor festival in November.

Taking place during what is often the wettest month of the year, the annual Good Food Month Night Noodle Markets is a gastronomic logistical exercise with few peers in the city.

In rain, hail or shine, teams from the various stalls must plan, prep and finally serve countless festival friendly – not too big, not too messy – dishes over the 17 days of the event.

Gelato Messina produced 10,000 of its Fryer and Ice ice-cream balls at the same event in Sydney last month but it's still early days for Melbourne, says event manager Ollie Findlay.

"In Sydney, there's no denying the market [in Hyde Park] is on but in Melbourne, it's a little slower to start but it finishes very strong," he said.

Hoy Pinoy is one of the stalls at the Good Food Month Night Noodle Markets.
Hoy Pinoy is one of the stalls at the Good Food Month Night Noodle Markets. Photo: Pat Scala

"The weather affects us ... but we have devoted fans who come no matter what we're doing."

The second-most popular item on Messina's menu is tipped to be the pale green tea cones, made with the ingredient of the year, matcha powder. But in the Messina tradition, it's no stock-standard matcha cone – this one, which sells for $10, comprises milk chocolate and green tea gelato, a white chocolate and pistachio crunch and a green tea waffle cone.

While several items have to be made on site, the cones are fully prepared – like cinema choc tops – in the factory, saving precious work space and time at the markets themselves.

"The prepping comes from moving items into bottles but as for making from scratch there's nothing made on site – that's a way to control quality," he says.

The other thing that needs monitoring during the festival is wait times, ensuring the longest delay from ordering to service is seven minutes, even in peak times.

"All of a sudden you blink and the queue is down the street, and we're ready for that," he says.

Mr Miyagi has created a new range of its famous nori tacos especially for the Night Noodle Markets.
Mr Miyagi has created a new range of its famous nori tacos especially for the Night Noodle Markets. Photo: Pat Scala

Another business popping up at more major events is Mr Miyagi, which last month catered at both the Caulfield Cup and in the Lexus marquee at Flemington.

Co-owner Kristian Klein said since the business opened an off-site kitchen recently, production for major events was more efficient than the days of running its Chapel Street kitchen 23 hours a day.

"Last year over the 17 nights we sold over 20,000 tacos," he says. "Our poor little kitchen copped an absolute hammering ... we ran our chefs in day/night shifts to keep up with the quantity of food we needed. We worked out the kitchen was in use for 460 hours – 23 hours a day of cooking and one hour for cleaning."

Find Gelato Messina's epic green tea dessert at the Night Noodle Markets.
Find Gelato Messina's epic green tea dessert at the Night Noodle Markets. Photo: Supplied

At its peak, the Mr Miyagi stall can pump out 480 tacos an hour, all made fresh to order.

"I don't want anyone to think we make stuff somewhere else and sell it out of a packet," Klein says. "It has to be fresh. I like when people look in [the tent] and while it's chaotic, we are producing the food then and there."

Good Food Month creative director Gemima Cody says the logistical effort it takes each year to stage the markets is "mind boggling".

Exterior of Gelato Messina's 'Very Very Good Lucky Fortune Bar' at the Night Noodle Markets.
Exterior of Gelato Messina's 'Very Very Good Lucky Fortune Bar' at the Night Noodle Markets. Photo: Pat Scala

"For three weeks, this piece of the city becomes one gigantic free-range restaurant, feeds hundreds of thousands of people and then vanishes. It's Melbourne's most elaborate pop-up."

The Age Good Food Month Night Noodle Markets is at Birrarung Marr, Batman Avenue, Melbourne, until November 27. Monday-Tuesday 5pm-9pm, Wednesday-Thursday 5pm-10pm, Friday 5pm-11pm, Saturday 4pm-10pm, Sunday 4pm-10pm. goodfoodmonth.com.