Khari Baoli Spice Market - Largest Spice Market in Asia!
One of my plans for my visit to Delhi was a visit to the famous Khari Baoli Spice Market, the largest spice market in Asia! A lot of spices produced in India make their way through this market before being sold through wholesalers. It is known for selling a huge variety of spices, teas, dried fruits, nuts and pickles. Situated in Old Delhi, this market has been operational since the 17th century it is a great place to visit if you have an interest in food and spices - most definitely for me!
Navigating through the roundabouts and streets or Delhi was like turning ago, arriving many years ago in Old Delhi. There was so much to see that I didn’t know where to begin so we decided to take it slowly and see what we come across. There are vendors and shops along the main thoroughfare but some of the more interesting finds are in the alleyways.
One of the realities of this being a continuously working market is the fact that at any given time, a person can come across oxen pulling carts or suddenly need to get out of the way of men carrying heavy loads on their heads or groups of men hauling heavy trolleys.
As we approached the main spice vending area, we came across people selling snack foods on the street. One gentleman had a huge “karhai” or cast iron pot similar to a wok. I can honestly say that I had karhai envy! It was very tempting to stop and have some “chaat” on the street but we were still full from breakfast. Did you know that the word “chaat” means “to lick”? It’s because the snack foods taste so nice that you want to lick up what is left.
Close to the entrance of the market there were people making and selling a variety of milk products, including paneer, yoghurt, ghee and khoya (milk reduced at low heat until only solids are left).
We were of course attracted to the variety of dried fruits and nuts. Having made a lot of friends of Iranian origin when I was a student in Canada, I knew the appeal of fresh pistachios so I couldn’t resist buying a kilo of them. It didn’t take long for us to finish them either!
I had a great time going through the spice market, smelling and even tasting some of the nuts and spices. We encountered so many grades and varieties of coriander seeds alone! There was a particular melon seed I was looking for and I found it there. I’m planning to use in some biryani dishes when I get back to Australia (more to come about that in a future post).
By far, one of the most interesting vendors I found was an asafoetida (also known as hing) shop in one of the side alleys. I was aware of the fact that asafoetida has a more intense aroma and flavour when used as a solid and that it is a dried gum. When sold commercially it is generally ground and combined with wheat flour or rice flour and often fried before use.
However, I was not aware of just how many varieties and grades of asafoetida that were available and that raw asafoetida (also uncombined with other ingredients) could be soft, varied in colour and almost spongy, while at the same time very pungent. It was a very educational day for me at the spice market.
As we continued our walk through the spice market, so many of the sights brought back memories. We came across some ladies grading and sorting spices and it brought me back to many years ago in Mauritius when rice had to be picked through to remove any impurities such as small stones or insects before it was cooked.
My next favourite shop was one specialising in pickles or achars. They had a manufacturing area at the back of the shop where they produced and packed the pickles. There were a number of pickle varieties being produced and they were happy to let me sample them, especially the chilli pickles!
I may not look like it but it was a lot of fun sampling the pickles and those of you who know me well know that I love pickles! No need for lunch after that.
We continued our walk through and I loved seeing how many dried chilli varieties were available. I was wishing that I could take some home but I did end up getting a box of yellow chilli powder.
Our final stop while browsing the market (and buying pickles as well as several spices, some of the vendors do package for export!) was a jaggery or palm sugar vendor along the street.
There were several different grades and types of jaggery depending on the purity and the type of palm tree it was produced from. Of course I had to sample them all but we weren’t able to get any as the vendor didn’t have the means to label them properly for export.
I left the market wishing that we had had more time to spend there but it left me with a lot of incentive to go back. On to other things to see in Delhi!