Seven of the World’s Most Exciting Spice Markets

From heaps of gravity-defying jewel-colored spices to scents that thicken the air and fill the nostrils, the world’s best spice markets are home to intoxicating scenes and experiences. They are labyrinths in which to get lost; maze-like alleys where your nose will lead you from one exhilarating experience to another. Moreover, they are found all over the world. Here are seven to discover.

1. Dubai Spice Souk

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Powders and petals in hues ranging from chartreuse to crimson are piled in large baskets in the back streets of Dubai’s Spice Souk, part of Deira Market, which was established in 1850. It is separate from the Shining, high-rise modernity of downtown by Dubai Creek, but in its own way, it’s every bit as dizzying as the emirate’s forest of skyscrapers. The dizzying towers of cardamom, turmeric, and hibiscus blossoms can be overwhelming for first-timers, so don’t be afraid to ask questions — or haggle.

Must try: Dried black limes – used to add flavor to sauces and stews – are a specialty.

2. Mercado Benito Juarez

Oaxaca, Mexico

This indoor market, which spans an entire city block, sells more than just spices; vendors here offer everything from tamales and textiles to mezcal and moles. There’s certainly plenty here to catch the eye and nose, including the range of dried chilies, from ancho to native Oaxacan pasilla.

Must try: A rainbow of taupe sauces showcase local spices at their intoxicating and complex best.

3. Rahba Kedima

Marrakech, Morocco

The souks in the city’s walled medina are intoxicating – none more so than Spice Square, as this bustling square is commonly known. Stalls and shops holed in the wall offer everything from star anise to cinnamon sticks and saffron strands at relatively low prices, while the center of the square is buzzing with people selling everything, from argan oil to herbal cosmetics.

Must try: Aromatic spice blends – including ras el hanout: a concoction of up to 30 spices – are particularly good.

4. Mısır Çarşısı

Istanbul, Turkey

While the arched, striped roof of Mısır Çarşısı – also known as the Egyptian Bazaar – catches the eye, the piles of earth-toned spices that fill the stalls of the 17th-century market vie for your attention. And amid strings of dried chilies and hills of garam masala are baskets overflowing with dried fruits, pomegranate flowers and sugar-dusted Turkish delights.

Must try: It was historically the last stop for camel caravans heading along the Silk Road.

5. Khari Baoli

Delhi, India

n the labyrinthine alleyways of this vast spice market in Old Delhi, the scenes and scents that unfold can be almost overwhelming. The market air is laden with the scents of cardamom, cinnamon and intricate curry powders, crammed into huge bags. It’s hectic, heady and completely hypnotic.

Must try: The market, established in the 16th century, is the largest of its kind in Asia.

6. Mombasa Spice Market

Mombasa, Kenya

Spices spilling out of bags and buckets at this frenetic spice market – which stretches along two roads near the Old Town – are as vivid as powder paints in vibrant hues of fuchsia, ochre, pistachio and burnt orange. This is where Mombasa’s Middle Eastern and South Asian influences mingle with local produce, so expect a heady mix of spices like turmeric, masala and expertly blended curry powders.

Must try: Mombasa pepper, the local specialty, is not for the faint-hearted – it is usually more pungent than cayenne pepper.

7. La Boquería

Barcelona, ​​Spain

The sweet, smoky spices that fill the air in this vaulted-roof market – Barcelona’s busiest – are exhilarating. There are a few spice stalls, while most counters are lined with strings of garlic and yellow, red, and orange chili peppers. Paprika, sold in bulk or in pretty tins, is the thing to take home.

Must try: A market has existed here since at least 1200, but La Boqueria didn’t have its roof until 1914.

Published in issue 15 (spring 2022) of Food by National Geographic Traveler (UK)

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