Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bhaji gali

Living outside, especially in countries where domestic help is either unavailable or prohibitively expensive, you tend to get used to simple conveniences like pre-cut, neat and clean packaged vegetables. And in the last 5 years, Mumbai seems to have sprouted tons of supermarkets that do exactly that! Must admit, they were an absolute blessing when I first came back and was struggling with finding a domestic help.

While the convenience of pre-packaged vegetables can’t be overstressed, there is a different charm to braving the wet markets and buying fresh produce. Each suburb, sometimes even each locality will have its own little wet market with fresh greens being displayed in aged wicker baskets and the produce sprinkled with water to keep it fresh under the hot sun.

South Bombay has its own bhaji gali (vegetable street) just off Tardeo near the Grant Road station. A long lane extending at least half a km, or so it seems to me, fresh produce lines both sides of the street. Sounds of bhabhi (sis-in-law), madam ring out as the bhaji walas (vegetable sellers) call out for your attention hoping to flog their wares. Exotic vegetables like pak choy, broccoli and pimientos (not to so exotic anymore!), zucchini, lemon grass leaves, baby corn, avocados jostle with local stuff like bottle gourd, bitter gourd, suran, kathal etc.

For me one of the most charming sights is the Marathi aai (Marathi for mother) with her nauvari (9 yards saree that the Marathi women wear. The saree is worn with the hind pleats tucked into the waist at the center back), the nose ring and the myriad wrinkles on her leathered face that breaks into a smile when you call her aai!

There’s a charm in rummaging through piles of bottle gourds trying to find one which has no spots or bargaining for a bunch of spinach that you think is horrendously overpriced but can’t help eyeing because it looks SO fresh!

This was a new one for me.. they looked like water chestnuts, but since the blak cover semed like charcoal and kept rubbing off my hand I was a tad reluctant but it was juicy and quite nice!

It’s not as if bhaji gali is significantly cheaper than the packaged foods, in fact for some stuff, I suspect it’s more expensive, but the visit is worth the experience. Go on a weekday, the weekend is madness! Take the driver, parking is a nightmare! Wear comfortable shoes, and stock up for the week!

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