Khari Baoli- A Day In Old Delhi

The Land Rover jostled with the bullock cart on the busy road leading to the back lanes of Khari Baoli. Located west of a heaving Chandni Chowk, it is Asia’s largest wholesale spice market. Few people know that it is located in Delhi, still fewer know that it has been operational since the 17th century.


Mushtaq and I wound our way through narrow passageways, jumped over mounds of garbage littering the road, got literally squeezed by a hand-pulled cart loaded to high heavens with sacks of basmati rice, and exchanged a gluttonous look at the sight of soft, white rasgullas dipped into a sea of sweet, translucent syrup loaded into a huge tin container and attached to the front of a hawker’s bicycle.


Street Scene in Khari Baoli (Photo by Ekabhishek)


By the bye, Mohd. Mushtaq is the Sous Chef at Masala Art, the restaurant serving contemporary North Indian cuisine at Delhi’s Taj Palace Hotel, and was my co-explorer for the day. We were on the ingenious and thrilling Spice Tour that Masala Art organised on Fridays, taking guests on a guided trip to Khari Baoli to experience the hum and bustle of the spice market, hand-pick masalas of their choice, and come back and share them with the chef who uses them to rustle up an appetizing, indulgent meal.


The sights of Purani Dilli never cease to amaze. They make for picture-perfect frames. We hastened our steps to catch up with Lokesh, our guide and trusted navigator, who was steering us through the maze of venous galis running through the seamless markets here. We suddenly stepped out onto an open yard bathed in sunlight and overcome with the stinging smell of dry red chillies that made us sneeze.


Spices in Khari Baoli



Countless gunny bags of red and yellow chillies in all sorts of sizes and colors lined the walls of the centuries old shops that ran deep, leading to ancient godowns. It was difficult for an untrained eye like mine to spot the difference between a tomato chilli, a jwala, a Kashmiri mirch or a bird’s eye, but the striking red of the peppers made for a dramatic contrast to the mounds of dry turmeric roots, whole black peppers, shrivelled-up kacharis, and mean-looking dry gingers.



Spices (Photo by Sonara Arnav)

Spices (Photo by Sonara Arnav)


We wound our way, picking up fat, fragrant cardamoms, spicy cashews, fryum footballs and racquets, yellow chilli powder, freshly-ground turmeric, dried moong dal dumplings, and a host of other masalas.



Feasting in Khari Baoli


On this exciting mission, we also managed to demolish a huge, stuffed kulcha at the original Kake di Hatti, polished a plate of moong dal and gond halwa at Giani di Hatti, and chomped off soft, juicy chunks of masala paneer at Garhwal Paneer Bhandar, before picking our way back to the car via Fatehpuri (we kept eyeing the greasy, mood-lifting window displays at Chaina Ram mithaiwala) and Naya Bans.


Stuffed Kulcha (Photo by Nadir Hashmi)

Once back at the Masala Art Kitchen, Mushtaq got busy with preparing an elaborate, spicy meal of bhatti ka jheenga, veg shammi kebabs, mathania mirch ka murgh, and aloo wadi ka bharta with missi roti and gajar ka halwa with rose petals, for dessert; while I sat plotting my next visit to Khari Baoli to indulge myself with another adventurous outing in masala-land.



By Sonia Wigh


About the Author 


Sonia Wigh loves to travel and is an avid reader. She is partial to historical romance novels and historical travel accounts.