The Mumbai Masala Trail
Hassan M Kamal went on a spice walk around some of the the city's most popular masala markets where he stumbled on a few trade secrets. You'll also find a checklist for your kitchen needs and tips on how to relieve that itchy throat on a rainy day!
Bedgi, Pandi, Madras and Kashmir are the four varieties. Best season for purchase is April to May.
Pandi: The least expensive, Pandi is small with a shiny skin and pale red. It’s hot but lacks colour. R90 per kg
Bedgi: Most popular chilli in Indian regional cuisine, it adds colour and spiciness (though less than Pandi). It’s long, dark red in colour and is wrinkled. Rs 180 per kg
Kashmir: The most expensive, these are fat, long and wrinkled (more than Bedgi). Unlike what the name suggests, Kashmir chilli is produced in Rajasthan. Rs 240 per kg
Madras: The spiciest of all, Madras Chilli is very popular and calls for a price equal to Bedgi chilli. It also has a shiny red surface. Rs 180 per kg
Green Cardamom prices vary depending on the size of the pod. The bigger pods (18-20mm), also of the best quality, are used for cooking whereas, smaller pods are used in cakes and in paan.
There are three main varieties of turmeric - Rajapur, Nizam and Salem. While both Rajapur and Nizam are of same quality (R160 per kg for both), Nizam (Rs 200 per kg) is considered to be the most superior of all. There’s no way to distinguish among the three other than their smell. Salem has got a stronger smell as compared to Rajapur and Nizam. Powdered Salem also has a reddish yellow colour to it. Most inferior turmeric powders have a blackish yellow colour to them.
Cinnamon Ceylon: The best quality and most expensive variety. It’s round but slightly pale in colour. This is the original cinnamon that comes from cinnamon tree.
Cinnamon Indonesian: Also round in shape, but dark orange in colour. It comes from the bark of cassia tree. Rs 250 per kg
Cinnamon Chinese: Flat and long, it’s the most inferior quality.
Kabab Chini and Black Pepper
Known as Allspice in English, Kabab Chini smells like a combination of spices - cloves, black pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon. The name is derived from Cubeb (Indianised to Kabab) and the Chinese (Chini in Hindi), who had a majority in trading this spice. It looks very similar to black pepper, however, unlike black pepper which is round and wrinkled, Kabab Chini has a smooth surface and always has a twig-like extension to it.
Did you know?
Kabab CHINI helps fight throat infections. No wonder it is very popular among singers who use it to clear a hoarse throat.
Jeera, Shah Jeera and Choti Saunf
For untrained eyes, both look similar, but there’s considerable difference in shape and colour of the three spices. Jeera is the longest, with thin moustaches on both ends, and has the sharpest smell, followed by Shah Jeera, which has sharp ridges running through it and usually wider and darker in colour than Jeera. Choti Saunf is the fattest of all, has a sweet taste to it and is most commonly used as a mouth freshner.
Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, and among the most adulterated too. It is available as filaments (most expensive) and in powdered form. Filaments are dark red, trumpet-shaped, serrated or indented at the distant end. They are 20mm to 40mm long. Saffron packs are graded from 1 to 4 with 1 being the best.
Cloves Indian: Has a strong smell, the stem is the longest and flower is more developed
Ceylon Cloves: Medium-sized, they are priced lower than Indian cloves.
Zanzibar Clove: The African clove is the smallest and has a red colour to it. This is the cheapest variety.
Where to Buy
Head to these masala destinations in Mumbai for all your masala needs
Masala section, APMC Market, Vashi: The baap of all Masala shops, this market is where all masalas come first before making their way to other stores. Best suited for bulk purchases. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Masala Gully in Lalbaug, Parel: Home to some of the most popular masala makers in Mumbai, each shop in Masala Gully is known for its unique masala mix, which they have been selling for years.
Mirchi Gully, Kalbadevi: One of the oldest masala destinations in Mumbai, it is our third best stop for masalas after Masala Gully in Lalbaug and APMC Market. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi