Mumbai’s Crawford Market

I like open markets.  I discovered them as a teenager living in England. The first one I came to know well was the Cambridge Market and when in London at odd times I would rise before the sun  and go to Smithfield Market to watch the show.  Now, when traveling in India, I often make a point to find the town market, and spend time watching and eating (when appropriate).  Mumbai’s  Crawford Market is one of the more spectacular markets I have visited.  It covers all of the major food groups: produce, fish, &  meat on an impressive scale as well as things not typically associated with markets, like live pigeons and puppies. The market space is predominantly indoors, though there are canopied outdoor bits in addition to small shops with large doorways.  It also is very compartmentalized by the primary product being sold.  So the fish market is in a very large building all to itself, as are the produce vendors and a smaller brick building with the butchers.  Some photographic impressions from a few years ago.

The day we spent wandering around Crawford Market started at the the fish market which sells a full range of sea food from shrimp to really big fish of some unknown type to me. It is a very cool place to explore.  But do not wear shoes you deeply value–the floors are wet with puddles and fish bits and the odor sticks with them for a long time. The building also has a distinctive and strong odor of fish, but not pungent, like the meat butchering building.

Ice is a central necessity to the market. As such, there is a special space reserved for it (there is one for salt, too, but on our visit, it had been all used up, so the large bins were just sitting empty and without much photographic appeal). Off to the side of the blocks of ice is a giant ice chipper which reduces the to shavings carried in buckets or packed into wooden boxes.

From the fish building, we made our way to the produce stalls, which are in another building and in surrounding canopied areas outside.  The produce was beautiful all round.

Besides produce, there also were dry goods and the occasional poultry stall under the same roof.

Wandering out the backside of the produce building takes you into less traveled parts of the market where one can find eggs and various live animals.

Note the goats among the eggs.  They also had goat’s milk and a kid could be had for the right price. Across the alley from here were chickens, pigeons, and a nice collection of puppies.

Off to the side, a bit removed from the live animals and an even less traveled zone of the market was the brick building dedicated to butchering large animals.  It held a perverse fascination because the raw imagery and odors assault the unprepared in a very powerful way.  The Lonely Planet describes the meat market at Crawford as “for the brave only,” a sentiment I would not argue with.  We slipped in a side door, where we had a view of one of the larger rooms.

From here we meandered through the building to exit out a side entrance.  There was much to see on the walk.  The meat sit out at every stage and is not protected from the heat of the day or from interlopers interested in a quick meal.

There were various cuts of meat and organs set aside for final preparation that also were sitting in the open available to inquisitive or hungry interlopers. I have left those images in the archive for now. Outside of the meat preparation areas, there was a refuse area where men would rest amongst the fresh bones and animals intent on a share. Note not only the number of black birds, but also the cat on the floor and another not easily visible on the counter to the right of the men lying down.

And for some of the workers, it was a valued place of rest, even amongst a thick bevy of flies.

I would and will visit again, though I will be a little better prepared for the sights and smells, as well as the interest people took in me. In the fish building many wanted to pose for pictures and the women would smile shyly and wave.  I suspect not many blonde westerners visit their world.  The produce sellers were less interested or curious about me, largely I would guess because it is where the bulk of tourists visit, which makes some one like me hardly a novelty. And a third contrast were the men in butchering building. They would look sideways at us, but gave us little direct notice and went about the their business, which by my observations had the most difficult environment and conditions.


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