Sweet ‘n’ savoury potpourri
Have you ever felt that whiff in the air walking past a store of spices? The magnificent aroma which provides half the taste of food resides in these spices and herbs.
Walking down the crowded and noisy lanes of Khari Baoli one can never ignore the sweet lingering mixed scent of dried coconuts, raisins, dates, cashew nuts, almonds and pistachios! While walking by some stores one might never get over the strong smell of asafoetida, cumin and mixed spices. The olfactory nerves of the human physique indeed play a very important role in the lives of gourmets.
Foundations of the Khari Baoli step-well were laid during the reign of Salim Shah, the son of Sher Shah Suri and the same was completed in 1551. The surrounding market had come up later in the 1650s around the Fatehpuri Masjid, when during Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s reign it came to be known as Khari Baoli- a saline water step well used for bathing.
Later on, when several Agrawal traders lost their businesses and migrated to Delhi from Punjab in the 1930s, they settled in colonies and started trading around the walled city of Old Delhi- Chandni Chowk, Khari Baoli and Chawri Bazaar and that is how the distribution hub originated in the heart of the city.
With Diwali coming round the corner, delectable delicacies are a must in every household and with that the busiest time of the year stirs up the already busy area of Khari Baoli. Several stores lined up uniformly displaying their colourful variety of edibles are a visual treat for any aesthetic admirer.
This area deals with the wholesale of dry fruits, spices, herbs, and pulses and grains to the entire national capital region.
The land of Old Delhi has its own charm besides being overcrowded and dirty, the place is bubbling with new stories, inquisitive eyes, hardworking labours and busy traders.
The season of festivals begins from Rakshabandan and goes on till the end of winter with Navratri and Diwali ending with glorious marriages. The busiest time of the year is the pre-Diwali phase when stores in every nook and corner of the city fill up their stocks for Diwali gifts. Traders and dealers come to this hotspot of dry fruits and spices to place massive orders for corporate houses, confectioneries, grocery stores around the city.
Diwali brings in the flavour of early winter with the artificial lights and colourful decorations. To add onto the mood of festivity special food preparations and sweets take the centre stage of celebrations. Diwali also calls for a wide range of gift exchange rituals, and one of the most common and safe gifting options among celebrators is dry fruits.
They are not only dry and hence have a long shelf life but are also healthy and tasty, therefore a common choice of time pass snack among young and old alike.
Spices and herbs are used in all varieties of namkeens, sweets, bakery products, packed products. Even at home people start cooking and consuming more rich food which requires more than the usual amount of spices than the average dishes.
People usually tend to eat out or spend more on restaurant food during the festive season, which again contributes to the extra requirement of spices.
“Majority of the herbs and spices are imported from China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, USA, and Australia each item from the country they specialise in. Kashmir cannot even cater to 10 days’ market requirement of walnuts, production of dry fruits and herbs in India are not enough so we need to import large amounts from abroad,” explained Pradeep Gupta, mixed dealer and President of Chemical Mercantile Association.
“This market is the distribution hub. Everybody looks forward to these 3-4 months (August to November) that sets a pace for the business throughout the year,” said Pradeep Gupta.