Explore the world of spices at Mirchi Galli
Eknath Majalkar, 55, is busy at work inside his 35-year-old shop that sells dry chillies, various kinds of spices, groceries and dry fruits. He has been running his shop for as long as he can remember. “It belonged to my father, and from him, it was passed on to me. It has always been a shop that has sold mirchi masala,” he says.
As you go wandering along the narrow lanes of the spice market in Lalbaug, Parel, you are greeted by the aroma of spices that may make your nose itch. Hidden behind old buildings and high rises, this market fiercely holds its own, and is home to both — fresh chillies and spice mixes. You will see sacks of red chillies lined up in rows, and spread out in gunny bags or tarpaulin sheets. Here, not only can you purchase whole spices, but also get them dry roasted and pounded into the masala mix of your choice.
That is perhaps why it is common to see men and women patiently waiting with their bags. Sarita Desai, a resident of Vashi, Navi Mumbai, says, “The range and quality of the spices available here is amazing. You can buy a kilo of really good quality Kashmiri chillies for Rs320. I always get local masala mixes. There is also a coconut chilli one for Rs500 a kilo, which is really nice. As you only need a couple of spoonfuls per curry, it will last you for a while. All the stalls seal the spices in a bag so they won’t leak. And if picking out one’s own stock of fresh and seasonal spices isn’t enough of a luxury, one can walk towards the next lane, and have them freshly ground too.”
CARRYING THE LEGACY FORWARD
This spice market is close to 50 years old. The red chillies that are found here are imported from Hubli, Karnataka, where they are grown. Guntur, Bedki, Reshampatti and Kashmiri are the names of the variety of chilies one would find in this market. Majalkar says that the market in Hubli is a wholesale market, but the chillies aren’t pounded there.
“This is a wholesale as well as a retail market. After the chillies come here, they are pounded and roasted in the machines. There are different kinds of Maharashtrian masalas that are made out of mixes such as Malvani masala, Konkani masala, etc,” he adds.
THEN AND NOW
Another shop owner, Janardan Walawalkar, 35, says, over the years, the market seems to have lost its “main customer base”. A lot of the produce, he adds, that’s found here can now be found in big departmental stores or online. “Though, the quality will not be half as fresh as the spices found here, people prefer purchasing it online because it’s easily available there. People come to us from all over the world because the spices they buy from us last them for years. We probably need to figure out other ways of marketing ourselves. Right now, we are able to manage our business, but I won’t say we are making enough profit,” he says.
Majalkar, too, reiterates the same fact that Walawlakar points out. “Earlier, till the 80s, we saw a lot of customers, especially those who worked at the mills in Parel. But after the mill workers went on strike and they (the mills) shut down, the customer base at the spice market reduced, as well,” he says, adding, “Post 1985, business hasn’t been as good as it should be. It is rather slow now.”