This morning I had planned to visit Shivaji Market with a friend. It's an open air market in an old part of the city called Camp which is comprised of a maze of roads lined with vendors. We visited this market on our look-see trip in October, and I was excited to go back. Too much indulgence in the local restaurants has convinced me (and my pants) that it is, indeed, time to get back into the kitchen where I can control what goes into our dinner. Today's agenda was spices.
We set out on an auto rickshaw. There's a guy who is usually posted with a few others under a tree near our hotel who seems to be popular with the other expats, so we went with him. This driver is particularly adventurous. He tailgates everything within a few inches, cuts off cars, hurls an occasional insult, and makes suddens turns. It's reminiscent of being in a NYC taxicab when you've just told the cabbie you need to go to Brooklyn. Anyway, I've adopted a "don't look forward" policy when riding with him. To his credit there haven't been any problems so far, he knows the city well, and was a total lifesaver for us today at the market.
As we neared a congested road to Shivaji Market we learned it was closed for a festival. Thinking of a plan B, the driver took us to two smaller markets for spices and produce. After almost hitting some pedestrians, in particular one boy who had about 6 live, white chickens by the feet, we arrived. The market was in an alleyway with a bunch of stalls selling spices in packets and dried fruits. We stepped up to the first stall and to test how honest the shopkeeper was about prices I picked up a bag of dried almonds. I was quoted Rs. 700 (about $11.50 USD) for the equivalent of 1 lb. of almonds, which I knew was a blatant rip off, so we left and went to a stall a bit further down that had a scale and regulated pricing.
It was crowded with customers, all men who were buying things like chickpeas and almonds in large quantities, and it was tricky to squeeze in. No sooner than we found a spot at the counter, did the driver come right up and assume role of translator and guide. We were shown bowl after bowl of spices, and encouraged to smell and taste things. It was nice to be able to engage with a local business as opposed to a grocery store. My haul of cumin, green cardamom, peppercorn, black rock salt (read about it here), chili powder, roasted/salted chickpeas, pistachios, and a 1/2 kilo of almonds (they were Rs 300, for the record) set me back just under Rs. 800.
The next market he took us to was a small road lined on either side with carts. It was mostly produce and an occasional accessories stall selling household goods, dish soap (it's giant, in a bar, and smells like animal), and dried fish. We got some spice blends from a really ornately dressed man; garam masala, and one I can't pronounce. I also got some green peppers, called capsicum here, tomatoes, potatoes, and onions. Am looking forward to cooking with them soon.
So, some updates on "life" stuff this week: we have an apartment to move into on March 1st (YAY!) and the owner is supplying us with built-in wardrobes (aka walk-in closets), a dining room set, drapes in 2 bedrooms and the living/dining area, a water filter, and some other creature comforts. We both now also have Indian cell phones and Marc is working on getting a Indian checking account established. Our stuff from NJ is due to arrive in Mumbai also on March 1st, so hopefully we'll be seeing it by the middle of the month, and I have begun looking for a car and driver. Would be nice to find one before we move in to our new place.
Stella, as cute as she is, has taken on a monster-dog mentality and has begun to bark and be slightly aggressive toward unfamiliar people as we're walking. She's done it twice when a group of friends walked past us, and it is a thoroughly embarrassing experience to have to apologize for her, especially when she's so sweet at home. There is a very limited amount of green space for dogs locally, and I haven't been able to unleash her for exercise since we got here. I try to make due by taking long walks and running her around in the hotel courtyard, but I really hope I can find something else.
Otherwise, things are good. We're happy to be here, have made some really nice friends, and are thankful to have warm weather. I'll be sure to write another update when we move into our new home (the view from our apartment below!), maybe sooner if I have something fun to write about :-)