Monday, November 26, 2012

Spice Market at Lalbaug - a photo-walk

- By Deepa Krishnan

Some months ago I went exploring the spice and pickle market at Lalbaug.
Lalbaug Market, as seen from the flyover
(click on photo for super-duper large view!)
Apart from spices, there is a bustling vegetable market, a farsan market called Chivda Galli, and a busy fish market in this area. Wedding and religious paraphranelia, shops selling daily needs items, kitchen utensils and provisions, all make for an interesting introduction to to Maharashtrian cuisine and culture.

Here are some photos from my walk. I really haven't been able to do justice to everything I saw, so I've focused mostly on spices in this set. But I hope this will give you some flavour of the area.
Gunny-sacks of coriander, still greenish, being cleaned and dried
Coriander powder is an essential element of Marathi cooking, and is used in a wide assortment of curries and vegetables. It is often combined with cumin and other spices to make masalas. 

The most conspicuous thing in the market are stacks and stacks of red chillies. Several varieties are on sale. 
Kashmiri Mirchi, the non-spicy variety, great for adding red colour to dishes
An extra-spicy variety - packs quite a wallop!
There were women sitting behind the chilli sacks, sorting the chillies by size. None of them had any sort of gloves or protection for the skin. It is not really crazily expensive to get a pair of gloves - so this sort of carelessness is mostly a result of ignorance. It's not just in the spice market - I see this lackadaisical attitude towards safety in many small industries.

Another popular item sold in this market is dried copra. Coconut trees are plentiful in the coastal areas of Maharashtra, so it is used in both fresh as well as dried forms. Copra is ground along with garlic and red chillies to make lasun chutney, a local favourite.
Edible Copra. India is the world's third largest grower of coconuts, after Indonesia and the Philippines
For those who wish to make their own masalas, the stalls offer a range of spices. I've named them in Marathi  below in sequence, starting with the lower row, and I hope you can click on it to see a larger photo. Bottom Row (starting from closest one): kalajira (nigella), methi (fenugreek), dhania (coriander), jeera (cumin), rai of two types (mustard), saunf (fennel), safed til (white sesame), and ajwain (carom).  Top Row (starting from closest one): (anasphal) star anise, two more jeera boxes (cumin), jaiphal (nutmeg), kalimiri (pepper), lavang (clove), dalchini (cinnamon), tirphal (Sichuan pepper) and dagadphool (stone-flower, a lichen) and tamaalpatra (bayleaf).
Spices for sale on the main road, near the Lalbaug flyover.
Above the spices are a set of cans containing lonche (pickles) for sale.
While most of the spices above are familiar to all Indians, tirphal (Sichuan pepper) is not. It is something you see only in Konkani cooking. Tirphal grows in the area around Goa. You can see a recipe here for coconut chutney flavoured with tirphal.

The people who shop in this area are typically Marathi-speaking communities (erstwhile mill-worker families). Although most of the mills are no more, the area continues to remain home to the workers, who have now moved to other occupations. There are also Gujarati-speaking women, but fewer in number.
Maharashtrian women buying chilllies and copra
Gujarati lady entering utensil shop
Once you buy the spices, you can bring them to the grinding mill if you want your own customised spices. This photo shows the inside of a masala shop in Chivda Galli. On the right is a lady who is waiting for her ground chilli powder.
Woman waiting for her turn at the masala shop.
The shop also offers a menu of spices, powders, pickles and papads.
The shop offers Malvani Masala, Sunday Masala, Mix Masala,
Garam Masala,  Goda Masala, Banarsi Masala,
and Ghati Masala. They also sell pickles.
In Chiwda Galli, there are several shops selling different types of farsan. You can also see the workshops where the farsan is made and packed.
Chiwda Galli, Lalbaug
I found a shop that sells the syrupy concoctions that all the gola-stands in Mumbai use. I always wondered where they got their stuff from, and now I know :)
Sai Krupa Sherbet and Cold Drink offers wholesale cans of sherbet in several flavours:  orange, lemon, pineapple, kala-khatta, mango, raw mango, rose, kokum, ginger-lemon, gooseberry, pista, butter-scotch, kesar, elaichi, and strawberry
There are two interesting buildings in Chivda Galli. The first is Hanuman Theatre, which is now a party hall. Hanuman Theater is where, when the mills first started, the mill workers would gather for tamasha shows, bringing the rural culture of Maharashtra into the city of Mumbai. Inside there is a shrine to a lavni artiste, a lady who was said to be possessed by the "devi". Adjacent to it is the dargah of Chand Shah Vali, where a Hindu Gaikwad family have for multiple generations been the caretakers. The dargah was destroyed by Hindu rioters in 92-93, but has been built again. The Gaikwad family continues to officiate here. 
New Hanuman Theatre Mangal Karyalay and Dargah of Chand Shah Vali. The tall building behind is Hilla Towers, built in the compound of a Parsi fire temple. 
I didn't photograph the fish market, the meat market and the pickles and spice market on the main road. Or the shops with tea and groceries and vegetables. Or the interesting chawls. I did of course, photograph the most popular "madka" shop in Lalbaug Industrial Estate :) 
Where there are spices, can the pickle jars be far  behind?
I'm going back there soon for another photo-walk. Anyone who wants to join me is very welcome! :)

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Snapshot of a Mumbai taxi-wallah

- By Deepa Krishnan

The Fiat was battered and old. But it was his sinhasan, and he sat relaxed and easy in it. He was tall and lanky. One arm was wrapped around the window and with the other hand he managed the steering wheel and the gear. I could tell at once that he was an old hand at this.
Many old taxi-wallahs in Mumbai have this relaxed if they the car is a living breathing thing, an extension of their own bodies. When I looked down at the clutch, I noticed he was driving barefoot. 

The Fiat itself was - well - how do I say it - it was the survivor of many surgeries. The long single front seat had been converted to bucket seats. A crazy blue-and-orange-flowery velvet design was plastered all over the car, including the roof. The steering wheel had been grafted on from a Chor Bazaar relic, the horn in the centre of the wheel was a set of exposed wires. The door-handles were barely functional and whole contraption rattled. 

But the taxi-wallah was the rajah of his domain. He drove without any stress, no matter what happened. A group of school-girls popped up suddenly in front of us. He braked, and after they passed giggling, he said something philosophical to me about aaj-kal-ke-bacchhe. At the Sion Hospital roundabout as he manouevered the car, I sneaked another photo of him on my mobile phone (OK, I'm sorry, but I did!!!). 
I wanted to talk to him, to ask him more about himself. But the ride was too frustratingly short to attempt conversation. Besides, my cellphone kept ringing with something or the other. And so my taxi-ride remained just another big city interaction, just another lost opportunity.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Shaleychya Dabyaala Kaai Baai Deu?

- By Deepa Krishnan

Sometimes you spot something in a bazaar and an entire culture comes alive in a tiny little flash of insight.

I was walking along Ranade Road last week; and as usual the market was full of Marathi-speaking women, shopping for vegetables, spices, fruits and other daily needs items. 

In the middle of the market was a tiny wooden stall, selling recipe books in Marathi. I stopped to read the titles and found myself immediately charmed. It was like a little glimpse into the hearts and minds of the women who come to this market. 
Bookstall on Ranade Road, with recipe books in Marathi
The first thing that caught my eye was Shaleychya Dabyaala Kaai Bai Deu? (Oh what shall I send for a school-break snack?). The eternal question of all mothers - what to feed picky school going kids! I can't tell you how wonderfully sing-song and melodious the title of the book sounds in Marathi, in fact it reminds me of a popular movie song. And also, in Marathi this question is addressed to another woman (the Baai in the title), creating a sort of sisterhood of dabba-senders. Sweet!

The next book I saw was Kaanda vuh Bataateychey Ruchkar Padaarth (Tasty dishes using onions and potatoes). Ha! Only in Maharashtra would you find a book with onions and potatoes as the heroes! You see, Maharashtra single-handedly produces more than 30% of India's entire onion crop. Naturally it is liberally used in the cuisine. Potatoes are also grown in Maharashtra, although it is not the star producer. 

But hey - star producer or not - it is Maharashtra that invented the vada-pav, the most divine way to eat potatoes. And let's not forget bhaji-pav and kanda-bhaji (all three are in the photo below, with some palak bhaji thrown in for good measure!).
God bless the vada-pav vendors of Mumbai :)
May they live long and prosper!
Since we're on the subject of potatoes, I'll come right out and say it: the Maharashtrian poori-ani-batate-chi-bhaaji is wayyyyyyy better for breakfast than the garam-masalaed aloo-sabzis of North India. Who wants to eat complicated garam masalas for breakfast, for god's sake! 
Reaching for crisp puris at Prakash.
The batate-chi  bhaaji waits for a judicious squeeze of lime.
At the bookstall, I also saw what looked like a popular series of books, they all had "61" in the title. 61 Khas Marathmole Padarth (61 Special Marathi traditional dishes), and 61 Laadu Vadya aani Faraalachey Padarth (61 Ways to Make Ladu, Vada and Faraal). 

Faraal is a generic term which covers a whole bunch of snacks. With Diwali around the corner, I suspect this book will be in hot demand. In Maharashtra, faraal includes things like Pohyancha Chiwda (made with rice-flakes and peanuts), Shev, Kadboli (which is similar to the Karanataka kod-bale), Chakli, Shankarpali, Karanji and so on. Some other time, I will post an article on some of these. But Amarendra's blog has a great photo of a wide selection of typical Maharashtrian faraal and laadu, and I am sure this "61" book I saw had recipes for all of these. I'm not sure what the one in the centre is, so if someone knows, I hope you'll leave a comment for me.
For the thinking woman, the bookstall had Rojchya Vaprateel Khadyapadarthache Aushadhi Gunadharma v tyachya pak-kruti - The Medicinal properties of ingredients in daily food and how to prepare them. And Hirvegaar ruchak padarth - Green tasty dishes (for those who want to give their children some healthy options)!

Another set of books I saw was the Khushkhusheet Series:
Khuskhusheet Thaalipeeth -  Crispy Thalipeeth
Khuskhusheet Bhaji -  Crispy Bhaji (the deep-fried variety)
And I'm sure they probably had more of these. Now khushkhusheet is a word that's impossible to translate into English. Although what I have used is Crispy, really, it's part-soft-part-crispy. If you've eaten thalipeeth you'll know what I mean. 

I came away from the little stall, not knowing what to buy. Everything looked so interesting, offering me glimpses into a totally different world. I didn't have time to "stand and stare" and flip through all the books. But I'll head back sometime soon. I think that faraal book is calling out to me!