When food is fun: on World Vegetarian Day, we decided to go to the mandi

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An aerial shot of Delhi's Okhla sabzi mandi (wholesale vegetable market). The action starts here pre-dawn, at about 5 am, and continues till late in the evening. Known for frequent, abundant supplies of the freshest fruit and veggies, it's where retailers come to stock up and where savvy householders come to buy their weekly stock of vegetables at incredibly reasonable prices.

When food is fun: on World Vegetarian Day, we decided to go to the mandi

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Onions may have been nicknamed purple gold in recent weeks but at this wholesale market, a bag of 5 kg will set you back a relatively affordable Rs 200.

When food is fun: on World Vegetarian Day, we decided to go to the mandi

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At Rs 150 for 5 kg, tomatoes are one of the highest volume vegetables to be traded at the mandi, and a far sight cheaper than their supermarket shelf cousins.

When food is fun: on World Vegetarian Day, we decided to go to the mandi

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Studies suggest that adding green vegetables to your diet even once a week cuts the risk of oral cancer by 20%. Here, it seems like no hardship: truckloads of vibrant greens jostle for your attention.

When food is fun: on World Vegetarian Day, we decided to go to the mandi

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Bittergourd and capsicum are Indian kitchen staples; here, they're on offer for Rs 150 and Rs 175 for 5 kg.

When food is fun: on World Vegetarian Day, we decided to go to the mandi

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The flavonoids in mosambi (sweet lime) give them superb anti-carcinogenic, antioxidant and antibiotic properties. Though part of the citrus family, this super fruit isn't acidic and is a great substitute to orange juice. Rs 100 fetches you a 5 kg bag.
When food is fun: on World Vegetarian Day, we decided to go to the mandi

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Garlic: love it, hate it, there's few things so loaded with flavour and possibility. Rs 300 for 5 kg.

When food is fun: on World Vegetarian Day, we decided to go to the mandi

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It may not be everyone's idea of a great meal, but at Rs 60 for 5 kg, bottle gourd is a healthy, affordable meal staple.

When food is fun: on World Vegetarian Day, we decided to go to the mandi

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There's undoubted charm in walking down the street and buying a freshly roasted corn-on-the-cob from a vendor, but if you like to do the same at home, this is where to stock up. Char on the gas flame, boil, and drench with butter for a delicious treat.

When food is fun: on World Vegetarian Day, we decided to go to the mandi

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Herbs: the final touch to a fabulous dish. The mandi is flush with bunches of fresh green mint, coriander and curry leaves for a flavourful last word.

WORLD VEGETARIAN DAY

When food is fun: on World Vegetarian Day, we decided to go to the mandi

Vikas Kumar @CatchNews

Food has always been political but never before has the politics of what we eat been quite so frontal.

Meat has been a central pawn in this face-off, so much so that advocating vegetarianism has become loaded with all manner of insecurity.

Yet, vegetarianism - and the rich, textured, flavourful world of vegetables - has its own argument for existing, devoid of any religious or cultural overtones. They're reasons of health. Reasons of taste. Reasons of variety.

As the world celebrates World Vegetarian Day today, October 1, Catch decided to ditch the supermarkets and fancy restaurants and head to the hub of all the green action: the mandi.

Globally, farmer's markets may be trendy but in urban India, we'd rather sift through fancy supermarket aisles than tramp through muddy mandis.

And yet, not only does that mean seriously inflated prices for everyday foods, it's also pricing that doesn't in any way benefit the source, the men and women who kill themselves to make a couple of rupees over every kilo of vegetables they grow.

It may be hard to access the farmer, but a mandi is within reach for most of us.

And there's nothing quite like it. Early morning at Okhla sabzi mandi, we encountered a world of fresh, affordable vegetables, from truckloads of ripe tomatoes to the favourite Indian street snack, bhutta (corn-on-the-cob); from flavourful fresh mint to every shape, size and texture of green veggie imaginable.

And they're all at prices that would seem mythical to those who only shop for their greens at swanky supermarkets.

Whether you're vegetarian or vegan, meat-eating or paleo, lauki-loving or green-averse, take a trip to your local mandi one of these mornings for an encounter with the fresh and the flavourful. It'll bring the fun back into food.

Vikas Kumar

Vikas Kumar @CatchNews