An inner city pocket rich with local history and a diverse cultural and socio-economic community, South Melbourne ticks all the boxes when it comes to feasting joyfully on a budget. At its heart stands the South Melbourne Markets, home to almost 150 purveyors of top-quality produce waiting to be devoured on the spot by curious visitors or used later in surrounding specialty restaurants and cafes. Lunch hour is peak hour in South Melbourne, where choices are plentiful and wallets are treated with upmost respect.

1. Large Trio of Salads at Giddiup, $9
269 Coventry Street

Sun-filled Giddiup might just be the closest thing to going home for lunch, thanks to the humble lot behind the bench preparing batches of thoughtful salads every day of the working week. Extending far from your average green leaves, the Giddiup team blesses every bulging bowl with top shelf ingredients. Think rissoni, orange segments, candied almonds, goats curd, chickpeas, rocket, slithered apples, pecorino and beyond.

2. Bun Thit Nuong at Wat Da Pho, $9.80
212 Clarendon Street

Tasty Vietnamese food has got to be one of Melbourne’s most favoured lunch options, so when What Da Pho started churning out authentic char-grilled skewers, it was no surprise that half of South Melbourne began taking mini lunch break vacations. A ginormous bowl of vermicelli noodles, crisp lettuce, cucumber, lightly pickled carrots, Vietnamese herbs, peanuts and Nuoc Cham dressing topped with two lemongrass beef skewers (not to mention Luke Nguyen on the telly in the background) is guaranteed to make you feel like a happy backpacker.

3. Bread and Fish Peddler at Claypots Evening Star, $10
Stall 111 South Melbourne Market
Corner of Cecil & York Streets

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There’s something really exciting about popping out for a spot of seafood on the street, grilled by a guy with an exotic accent and a ponytail. You could be sitting on a crate anywhere in the world, with zesty fish sandwich juices running down to your elbow. But it’s the fact that you’re actually perched on the fringe of the South Melbourne Markets that makes this affordable lunch so unique.

4. Half Baguette with Fillings at Chez Dre, $6.50 for takeaway ($7.50 for eat in)
Rear 285–287 Coventry Street

Chez Dre’s glass counter revealing fresh baguettes (baked daily on the premise) will send lunch-timers into a head-spin of indecision. With a selection of lavish European fillings on offer, it’s a blessing that half a foot of perfection will only set you back $6.50 for a takeaway roll, allowing you to sample different fillings each day of the week. Locals swear by the smoked salmon with dill and caper cream cheese and cucumber, not to mention the roasted tarragon chicken with lemon mayonnaise, Gruyere cheese, celery and walnuts.

5. Ten Freshly Shucked Coffin Bay Oysters at South Melbourne Seafoods, $10
Stall 4 South Melbourne Markets
322–326 Coventry Street

Slurping down freshly shucked Coffin Bay oysters at just $1 a pop has got to be one of the most refreshing, liberating things you can do for lunch. A perfect antidote to the most common of modern day ailments (a good old-fashioned hangover), these perfect sea creatures are to be enjoyed right over the counter with a dash of lemon and Tabasco sauce.

6. Tapas and Mezze at Gas Eatery, $7–$10
253 Coventry Street

Gas Eatery never fails to write up something irresistibly yummy on their daily, rotating specials board, which revels in all things Mediterranean. Crowd favourites priced between $7 and $10 include empanadas filled with slow-cooked beef, Istra chorizo, tomato, cannellini beans and Spanish spices, alongside smoked eggplant and potato croquettes with feta and parmesan, served with tahini yoghurt and lemon.

7. Japanese Curry at Origami, $7.20
190 Park Street

Open for just three hours over lunchtime during the week, the Japanese family behind Origami have been serving up an authentic, back-to-basics curry at their tiny Park Street restaurant for several years. The informal lunchtime arrangement pays homage to local curry houses in Tokyo with a busy, no-frills experience. Perfect at just $7 a bowl.

8. Banh Mi at Ba Ba Roll Spice & Rice, $5
Stall S9 South Melbourne Markets
322–326 Coventry Street

A perfect mid-morning remedy to a busy day of shopping at the South Melbourne Markets, these banh mi rolls are so distractingly tasty, you’re likely to forget that the overfilled baguette only cost you a couple of gold coins. Laden with fresh herbs, sweet chilli sauce, carrot, lettuce and pork or chicken, these famous Vietnamese sandwiches are all about flavour, not looks. Don’t be scared off by the daggy food-court environment, these guys have held the fort for years, and for good reason.

9. Turkish Gozleme at Koy Restaurant, $10
116–136 Cecil Street

It can be so hard to walk past a Turkish grandmother kneading fresh dough in one hand as she stretches and grills the salty flat breads in the other. Filled with spinach, feta and sometimes lamb, and topped with yoghurt and lemon, the Koy family’s gozlemes (which are prepared and cooked outside the restaurant) offer an authentic and inexpensive lunch all year round.

10. Alka’s Lunch Packs at the Polish Delicatessen, $7.90
Stall 37 South Melbourne Markets
322–326 Coventry Street

Don’t underestimate the comparatively small counter at the Polish Delicatessen, which is home to many variations of Eastern European sausages, speck and cured meats. The best part is, there’s no need to wait until you take your findings home, as owner Alka will happily create a deceivingly low-key lunch pack for her customers. Comprising sliced ham and pork neck, fresh ciabatta, green pickles and egg salad, this build-it-yourself style lunch is a perfect sample of Eastern European grazing.