We were picked up from our homestay in Mysore by, Aabi, our guide for the morning. “Which tour company are you with?” Yamuna Achaiah, our homestay owner, asked her. When the reply came, ‘Royal Mysore Walks’, Yamuna turned to us with a smile. “OK, that’s very good, you’ll have a wonderful time. This company always organises unusual, off-the-wall excursions”. That was an approach which was right up our street, so off we set towards Mysore market with a sense of happy anticipation.
“What do you think those waist-height poles in the middle of the passage into the market are for?” asked Aabi as we threaded our way into the bustling alleyways. We couldn’t guess. “It’s to stop the cows getting in” she tells us, laughing.
Almost the first stall we came to was a sweet stall, laden with all kinds of sugar-laden goodies, including the famous local confection, Mysore pak (post on that to come).
The stack of prezel-like sweets are jalebi (sometimes known as zulbia). They’re made of batter made from ordinary plain flour which is deep-fried and then soaked in syrup. The syrup sometimes includes lime or lemon juice, or rosewater. Jalebi can be eaten hot or cold.
Another sweet snack we found further on in the market was puffed rice mixed with jaggery (a type of raw cane sugar – post to come).
Then on past the familiar – beans, cauliflowers, and cabbages – to the more exotic – custard apples (this grenade look alike fruit was spotted also in Rio), chickoo and Indian gooseberries.
And at the entry to the banana corridor I spotted gleaming golden starfruit.
Aabi explained that the banana corridor offered the least expensive merchandise in the market. Everything on the tree was used. Food is served on banana leaves – apparently they transfer their nutritious compounds to what is about to be eaten.
You can use banana leaves to wrap tamales or to steam fish – they give a delicate flavour. The stalk is also used, it’s high in fibre so it can be eaten raw with spices; and old, unsaleable bananas are even converted into incense holders.
I asked Aabi what she liked to cook for herself when she got home after a hard day at work. “My favourite thing to make is a pea and potato sandwich” she answers promptly, smiling. What a creative idea! I must try that I think to myself.
Then on, past the quickly recognised peas and potatoes, I find carrots – but these are different. Rather than the watery orange variety we’re used to in the West, these were a deep red colour – and huge – bigger than anything I’ve yet found on John Stolarczyk’s World Carrot Museum.
I noticed a lady carefully arranging vegetables into neat piles – like lots in an auction. “Many stalls sell their wares like a kind of pound store” explains Aabi, “each of those piles will cost the same, sometimes the piles are mixed, sometimes composed of all the same item”.
This market here doesn’t only offer food. There are stalls selling all kinds of kitchen equipment, knives and rolling pins, mousetraps and coffee pots. And colourful stalls selling housepaint (I remembered the mint green and cherry blossom pinks of the village houses of the Kadu Kuruba).
Then we were sauntering past the rice and dried bean merchants… and the spice section. What a selection of everything! At one of the spice merchants Aabi pointed out a particular mix. “That’s my favourite”, she explains, “Its key ingredient is tamarind. You just mix it into a paste with water and then add to rice and it makes an instant supper dish all of its own. Then it’s called tamarind rice or pulyogrey”.
Just outside the market there was one final culinary treat in store. Stopping by a street vendor Abbi pointed to a peculiar type of pea. “Try one,” she encouraged, “they’re a healthy snack – it’s a bit fiddly, you have to peel them first”. They were good – fresh and fruity, but better, if like Mae West, you had a maid to peel them for you!
This post is dedicated to Abida Husna, with all thanks for a wholly fascinating and entertaining morning.
Below you’ll find the song developed out of Mae West’s famous ‘peel me a grape’ line, song by Diana Krall