The Story Of Khari Baoli – Asia's Biggest Spice Market

Mar 18th 2015 at 12:04 AM

Set deep in the beating heart of India's Old Delhi, where an intricate network of back alleys and spider-web lanes prevent access for even the rickshaws, lies Khari Baoli - the gateway to Asia's biggest spice market.

This vibrant courtyard is crammed with vendors, carts piled high, thick clouds of spice hovering round their heads. The heady aromas of India hang in the still air as hawkers call out their wares and locals bustle to and fro, haggling over their purchases. Situated close to the famous tourist attractions of the Red Fort and Fatehpuri Masjid mosque, Khari Baoli also reels in its fair share of tourists who come to observe the incredible variety of spices and Indian ingredients on offer. And there is a lot on offer here, laid out on steel plates before cross-legged merchants who sip masala chai and look on over the cloves, cardamom and saffron, shipped from all over India to be sold here, in this legendary bazaar.

Although it may appear to be a chaotic explosion of colour, with stalls and traders packed tightly together in a disorderly fashion, the system actually follows a strict and organised pattern of trade – appearances can be deceiving at Khari Baoli.

When did it all begin?

Khari Baoli is an area of Old Delhi steeped in history – the spice market can trace its roots back to the 17th century and it is believed that many of the shops that operate to this day, still retain their original names from when the market began. It is likely that the operations of many of these spice shops have been passed down through the generations, a rich patchwork of family histories woven into the tapestry of the main bazaar.

What is on offer?

This is the place to come to locate all manner of spices from all over India and even further afield.  Traders are keen to impart specialist knowledge of their particular wares and you can expect to hear that several stalls offer the finest Kashmiri saffron or the spiciest peppers of Malabar.

However, it's not only spices that make an appearance at Khari Baoli – there are vast piles of dried fruits and nuts on offer too as well as herbs, chilli peppers, pulses, rice, tea and various other products.

It is also possible to purchase the decadent dessert ingredient koya, with sweet shops nestled amongst the heavy spices on offer. This form of milk solid has a similar consistency to ricotta cheese and is created in large quantities to make a mouth-watering array of desserts including barfi and rasgulla. Jaggery, a sugary substance that features heavily in many Indian sweet recipes, is also available at Khari Baoli.

Finally, the health conscious will be intrigued by the array of Ayurvedic herbs and medicines that can be picked up at this market – remedies for all sorts of ailments from aches and pains to dull and lustreless hair are available. All are from natural sources and a Hindu tradition of medicine that dates back hundreds or years.

To experience the authentic spices, foods and flavours of India, book yourself a table at one of London's best Indian fine dining restaurants, and let the innovative chefs transport you to this exotic land.

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