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Spice of Life: 10 of The Best Spice Markets In The World

Interest September 1, 2017 By Vincent

A window into the soul and history of a culture, spice markets can be a bustling parade of bright colors, sharp smells, and loud noises that can excite the sense and also cause confusion and become overwhelming if you don't keep your wits about you.

Many places have their unique cuisines and flavors that they cater for, and so each of these markets can have a different focus or feel to them depending on where they are in the world. Here we look at some of the very best on the planet.

1. Rahba Kedima - Marrakesh, Morrocco

Known as Spice Square, the clue is in the name as this brash center of the spice trade is alive with things to flavor meats and fish to make home cooking that much more adventurous. Things like anise, cinnamon, and mace are all much cheaper than you will find other places whilst if you head to Cafe Epices, the mint tea is cool, refreshing and delicious.

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Do your research though and be a clued-up customer as you don't want to be buying the ground saffron when the strands will be fresher and that much better, but make a budget and stick to it because things can get a little out of hand otherwise.

2. Long Bien Market - Hanoi, Vietnam

Many will recommend the labyrinthine Old Quarter of Hanoi for the spice stalls that dot the alleys and walkways but if you set the alarm early and head out to Long Bien Market on the banks of the Red River at 4 am you will be greeted by a far more striking image as it is a working wholesale market, so don't make yourself too much of an irritating tourist.

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Mint, lemongrass, cinnamon, coriander, and ginger can all be bought in decent quantity and at its freshest whilst vendors flog steaming bowls of pho to keep you going, and you can even liven them up with the spices you've just got your hands on if you so choose.

3. Grand Bazaar - Tehran, Iran

A daunting rabbit's warren of alleys filled with frantic, darting business that can become quite overwhelming but if you hold your nerve and head for the spice lanes you can pick up all manner of herbs, nuts, and dried fruits either pre-bagged or weighed with things like saffron being in abundance and thus far cheaper than you might expect.

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If it does all get too much, break free of the thrall and head to Moslem Restaurant for their delicious tah chin, rice cakes with chicken and saffron.

4. Benito Juarez Market - Oaxaca, Mexico

The oldest one in the city, the Benito Juarez market sprawls right out over a whole block and draws local business owners and tourists to its bustling stalls that specialize in an immense variety of chili peppers including ancho and chilhuacle. The best ready-made mole paste can be picked up as well to add a real kick to any Mexican dishes.

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Should you be chewing over what peppers to pick up, you can literally chew over spicy grasshoppers, known as chapulines, just make sure you know the import restrictions in your country for anything you buy.

5. Khari Baoli - Delhi, India

The largest wholesale market in all of Asia, this place sells dried fruit, nuts, and spices from across Northern India and even Afghanistan and dates right back to the 16th century where it has been sitting in the shadow of the Red Fort since then. Dried mulberries to khoya, a milk solid used in cakes and desserts, allspice and turmeric are all plentiful and cheap.

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Don't linger too long though as the passageways are narrow and frenetic but if you need a burst of energy try out the sweet, nutty jaggery cake.

6. Darajani Market - Zanzibar, Tanzania

Known as 'Spice Island', Zanzibar is definitely the place to head to if you want some seasoning and its importance to the spice trade can never be understated as it lies between Indian subcontinent, the Arabian peninsula, the African mainland and also takes influences from mainland Europe making it a unique mix of vibrant cultures and experiences.

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Head to the historic Stone Town, and you'll find stalls of ginger, saffron, anise, and pepper being sold by the sack load with low prices available to those prepared to avoid tourist spots and barter. If the frantic pace at the center of the market gets too much, retreat to the fringes and nibble on the dates being sold there. 

7. Dubai Spice Souk - Dubai, UAE

In the sleek, chic modern setting of Dubai's super city, the Spice Souk can feel a little like a throwback to its Middle Eastern roots where the air is pungent with the smells of cloves, cumin, cardamom, turmeric, pepper, saffron, and nutmeg. 

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Open daily; you are expected to haggle on the price before maybe settling down to some well-earned lemon lamb tikka, flavored with dried black limes.

8. Egyptian Bazaar - Istanbul, Turkey

The best place to buy spices in Turkey, you can also pick up some authentic Turkish delight to munch your way through as you survey the other stalls alongside the New Mosque. 86 shops sell everything from garam masala to green peppercorns as well as special herb blends and teas.

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Named after the fact most of the goods were imported from Egypt when the market was built in 1660, bring zip lock bags for your purchases.

9. Mahane Yehuda Market - Jerusalem, Israel

Known as 'The Shuk' this market has official tours to make finding your way around that much easier and you can even pick up a 'bite card' where you can try six different dishes, from spicy falafel to fresh hummus.

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There are shops with hundreds of spices at their disposal including special blends for sale such as the sumac, an Israeli delicacy. With over 250 vendors, you're sure to find something.

10. Mombasa Spice Market - Mombasa, Kenya

Mombasa has long been Kenya's link to Asia thus engendering a vibrant and diverse melting-pot culture thanks to its location on the Indian Ocean. Head to the West of the Old Town and the Spice Market will greet you with an array of unique curry powders, bright yellow turmeric, masala and cardamom from the subcontinent.

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For a more localized flavor, pick up some Mombasa pepper to tickle the taste buds.

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