My first visit to Mumbai’s Crawford Market was an initiation into the world of Indian cooking. Hidden in the winding corridors of the market chaos, rich culinary secrets lie waiting to be discovered. The astute traveller will know that buried in-side this commotion is the famous Marchi galli, or ‘spice corridor’, where you will find an assortment of the finest, rarest spices in the city. This, my first rendezvous with India’s spice trade, served as a gateway to spice markets around the country.
‘You can get everything you need at Crawford Market,’ a friend of mine tells me. She says that India’s myriad cuisines rely on getting the seasoning just right. The only way to learn is to venture out into the great melee of buying and selling that characterises the country’s spice markets.
The bustling city markets have everything you could ask for, but for the true spice lover, a trip to the town of Tellicherry in Northern Kerala is a must. Those who know Indian food know it as a vibrant spice port rich with history. Charmaine O’Brien says: ‘I have never seen such fresh spices. Tellicherry pepper is renowned as the best in the world although it is grown in the hinterland of Kerala and it takes it name because Tellicherry is the port it was traditionally shipped out from.’
In the north, Delhi’s Khari Baoli market is famous for packing spices from around the country into one long road. Just a few minutes from Chandni Chowk, this noisy mess of a market is a joy to shop in. Vendors prop massive sacks of spices and dried fruit outdoors, and are happy to chat to you about origins and uses. This market has been around for more than four centuries and retains a vibrant mood.