Bazaars

With a soft kiss on my cheek she looked at the array of food spread out on the table, her eyes twinkling she asks how the hell do I come up with these without looking into any recipe book. With a sweet smile I say – I do refer to a recipe book; I close my eyes and journey through the bazaars of Mumbai………

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What do you weigh, O ye vendors?
Saffron and lentil and rice.
What do you grind, O ye maidens?
Sandalwood, henna, and spice.

What do you cry,O ye fruitmen?
Citron, pomegranate, and plum.
What do you play ,O musicians?
Sitar, sarangi and drum….

Quotes from the famous poem of the Nightingale of India, Sarojini Naidu echo in your mind as one treads through the narrow lanes of the Crawford in Mumbai where one of the largest bazaars are held daily. The freshness of the vegetables, of the fruits lingers in the air mingled with the scents of moist wooden crates and earthy jute sacks. Every vendor calls out to the passer-by as housewives, maids, bachelors, students and gourmets wander through the stalls buying the produce of their choice. The onion and tomato vendor in the corner is bragging about the quality of his produce this year while the herb-lady near the verandah is rapidly exchanging a gossip and a recipe with maid she knows…

You stride through the fishy lanes of the Koli market, and see the familiar face, the ‘Koli’ (Fisherwoman) you trust. With a slight exchange of looks she discreetly guides you into the buying the fresh catch of the day and then boasts about the famous curry she cooks in her village that is craved by all; you note it down in your mind and replicate it at home, truly delicious. Aromas of toasted bread and sticky sweetness of freshly packed jelly from the ‘house-made’ stalls tease your senses and light breeze entices you towards stalls of roasted corn on the cob or lemon-chilli guavas so you can munch along as you journey through the narrow lanes. From a corner you hear a shout and you spot the coconut vendor calling you with much enthusiasm to taste the water from the baby coconut he just hacked off; you walk along smelling the wet earth clinging to the shells of the groundnuts making a mental note to buy some on the way back…

While roaming here and there you miss an aisle and enter a lane – cheerfully sweet laughter catches you off guard. Ladies clad in colorful dresses and jewels, some with their faces hidden behind mask of cosmetics are smiling at the loners strolling down the street. For a minute you are caught in the virtual world of ecstasy, then realize this is not the life for you; with a sigh of relief you re-track away from the ‘red’ lane back into the world where the aromas and flavors of ingredients engage themselves into a foreplay teasing your senses into an exotic inspiration of foodgasm….

From the green canvas of vegetable vendors, to the smells of the seas at the fish market; from the glitter of gold at the Zaveri (Jewellery) bazaar to the notes of spices in the Masala Galli (lane); whiffs of perfumes and minerals blend in the air at the Dava (drug) market while flowers sing their floral songs at the phool (flower) bazaars; a lane lights up in the late noon on the west corner of Crawford and pleasant aromas of tandoori kebabs, biryanis flirt with your senses pepping up your appetite…

The Bazaars of Mumbai, an untapped trove of ingredients, truly an unopened chest in the treasure of the grandmother’s secret recipes. Numerous cultures, traditions, conglomerate in this one place;  restaurants in and around bring the farm to their tables, menus focusing on simple cooking techniques of readily available seasonal ingredients while households join in the celebration of the bounty of nature by bringing these flavors at home, the home-makers using their own recipes to convert them into simple, no-frills dishes of delicious satiety.

Bazaars of Mumbai don’t just provide the necessary ingredients; it is also a source of inspiration for chefs, who simply stroll in the early mornings to brainstorm on a new menu. It is a temple of hope to that farmer who has toiled all year long to produce the boast-worth quality of produce, a platform for the fisher-woman to voice her husband’s catch of the month or the butcher to show-off the best cut of the lamb he raised himself.  And more so it is a recipe book in real, where the colored pages get written and re-written every day; where the verbally exchanged recipes become a legendary part of gastronomique of tradition and cultures…

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Friends – Eat Fresh. Eat Healthy. Eat Local.  No fun in breathing conditioned air as you toss those GMO veggies in your baskets. Go to the markets, feel the freedom…fall in love, with food.

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10 Comments

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  1. So vividly described! I feel like I just walked through the market myself! And talk of all the food makes me crave a midnight snack…

    • thank you so much! i miss the markets of Mumbai….in NYC and DC we have farmers markets too…a little different than india… 🙂 thanks for the read!!! appreciate it.

      • I agree. I live in Seattle, but even the famous Pike place market doesn’t cut it when I compare it to Bangalore’s markets!

  2. @chaitanya – oh you are in seattle? yeah i heard about the Pike place! but theres something about indian bazaars….am glad you liked it! 🙂

  3. I have spent too many Saturday afternoons in Crawford and the foreign market there, practicing in Small Causes court near Crawford, helped me in making some vendor frnds, who visited the court. Thanks for the memory, it was like revisiting the old days. its been a decade now that I have not been to this part of Bombay. The lanes light up during Ramzaan festival like no other time, there is always the extra food, sniffs and smells on the stalls.
    Love Ash.

  4. Crawford Market holds so many memories for me right from when I was a little girl. This really took me back. So vivid I could practically smell the masalas. As always well-written 🙂

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