You may not see it at first, but a few directions from friendly shopkeepers will lead you through a narrow lane straight into the wonderful world of the Lalbaug spice market – one of Mumbai’s most densely populated neighbourhoods and a mill area in another lifetime.
The lane is instantly identifiable by plump sacks of red chillies lined up in rows. The humble displays extend onto the street itself where more chillies are spread out on gunny bags or tarpaulin sheets to dry in the sun. Meanwhile, the shopkeepers sit in the shade of their brick and mortar shops under hand-painted signs, busy filling jars, weighing powders, and attracting customers with heady scents and competitive prices.
And if picking out one’s own stock of fresh and seasonal spices isn’t enough of a luxury, one can go to the parallel lane and have them freshly ground too ! The sensory overload here is at a whole new level. Four establishments stand side by side, each producing a trail of smoke and strong smell of tempered spices. A new batch is roasted as per each customer’s requirement, which is then transported inside the shop where large metal grinders move in a poetic rhythm to convert the mixtures into masalas. For those who prefer buying off-the-shelf, the shops offer a selection of their own colourful spice mixtures, each labelled in Hindi with a special name or the day that they were ground and packed. It doesn’t get more authentic than leaving this magical place with a bag full of freshly ground spices !