Food, food culture, food as culture and the cultures that grow our food

Doors 9 JUICE reports:
Delhi’s Sabzi Mandi

March 15, 2007

Subzi mandi carrot salesman, Delhi

That’s vegetable market to me and you. At the crack of dawn, dodging raindrops the size of wild peaches, a small delegation from the Doors9:JUICE urban agriculture workshop heads out for a reconnoitre of Delhi’s Sabzi Mandi, the wholesale vegetable market off Mehrauli-Gurgaon Rd. Through a haze of sleepyhead we wonder where the food that feeds Delhi comes from and if people working at the wholesale market think urban agriculture would be appropriate for a city like Delhi.

Finding the market is easy, trucks too big for the warren of windy roads all but cordon off the way. We park our car in an actual parking lot right next to a cow and head off for the wholesale market on foot. A tikka-dealing holy man runs the shrine at the market’s entrance, turning the humdrum of a day’s of food distribution into an auspcicious event. Tik, tik, tikka!

Subzi mandi cauliflower salesman, Delhi
A one stop shop for all your cauliflower needs, this is the happiest cauliflower salesman in the world. The trimmings are bagged and sold as fodder for dairy cows.

The Sabzi Mandi (vegetable market) ends up being one of only a few dotted throughout Delhi, and the Mother of All Markets ends up being somewhere else. But this mandi distributes vegetables to most of the local shops and restaurants all over (south) Delhi.

Cauliflower salesmen at Delhi's Subzi Mandi
The vegetable trimmings were constantly being collected into burlap bags and sold as fodder for dairy cows. The result of this was that there was zero litter, though the rains had produced a sea of mud, the market was spick and span.

Although when you first step into the market area your view is flooded with a wash of green and abundant produce, further observation reveals that the varietal selection is actually rather poor. Maybe it’s because it was the tail end of winter, maybe it’s because this market is supplied by conventional agriculture and not organic farmers, maybe this is not the sort of place you go to when supplying your corner shop with indigenous varieties of chickpeas. From stall to stall, there was only one sort of potato, one sort of carrot, one sort of cauliflower etc…

Burlap potato barriers at Delhi's Sabzi Mandi
Loving the burlap vegetable barriers

We were invited for a cup of chai and a chat by the market’s alpha male potato wholesaler who ‘received’ us in his tidy stall, where he reigned atop a throne clad in crisp muslin. After the introductions we just came right out and asked, ‘What do you think the effects would be of growing food in Delhi? Our host informed us that just 25 years ago, Delhi was completely self-sufficient in terms of produce, but that now Delhi’s food travels great distances because the bigger farms are farther and farther away from the city’s periphery. He told us that growing food within the city would absolutely be beneficial for Delhi, increasing access to food, increasing access of small-holdings farmers to (wholesale) markets, and greening the city.

Although this hardly constitutes thorough ethnographic research, breakfast was beckoning and we were pleased that this was start of the three day workshop exploring the notion of growing food for Delhi in Delhi. In the next few days I will post more of the group’s findings.

Porter with hook at Delhi's Sabzi Mandi
Porter with hook is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick I mean a minivan.

debra at 12:15 | | post to


  1. should provide more information based on ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE i.e. doing this people would prefer more of this website

    Comment by nikitha christina — February 28, 2008 @ 17:31

  2. Hi just looking for more information about urban agriculture in delhi, is something going on this summer (2008)? thanks

    Comment by Tarini Manchanda — April 26, 2008 @ 22:14

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