Lalbaug’s mirchi galli is a spice souk where red chillies stand tall and strong, the drift of kitchen smells make noses itch and quaver, and despite the odds against the element, every passerby wanders in. Shopkeepers, one after the other, on Lalbaug New Market, Shri Ganesh Nagar, have sacks of chillies from light red to deep burgundies lining the the outside of their shops.

Photo: Aman Deshmukh/LBB

Photo: Aman Deshmukh/LBB

Photo: Aman Deshmukh/LBBThe popular Kashmiri chillies overpower, giving a semblance of heat but actually only lend a rich red colour to food. These are at INR 260 a kilo. Byadigi chillies, deeper in colour and more shrivelled, hail from Karnataka, while the pandi mirchi {INR 100-140 a kilo} from Andhra Pradesh have the most heat. Others like reshampatti and sankeshwari come and go with the season.

Photo: Aman Deshmukh/LBBAll spices, seeds and condiments are sold here, from cinammon, nutmeg, mace, cardomom, cumin, peppercons, turmeric, star anise, and more.

Photo: Aman Deshmukh/LBB

Photo: Aman Deshmukh/LBB

Photo: Aman Deshmukh/LBB

Photo: Aman Deshmukh/LBB

When the spices are right here, can the makers be far behind? Further exploration leads to a right turn behind the temple, where a new process begins. The spices bought from mirchi galli are now being combined beautifully to form the roasted masalas for cooking.

Photo: Aman Deshmukh/LBB

Deep frying tavas outside more shops are places, where turn by turn a mix of spices are roasted and mixed with other ingredients. We watch the making of a classic garam masala. This tava splutters, spits and smokes the flavours of the red chillies into the oil, creating clouds of unruly vapour which make the most resilient of us cough up.

Photo: Aman Deshmukh/LBB

With a deft, almost careless hand, dhaniya, laung, kali mirch and dalchini are tossed into the chillies. After they roast the makings of a garam masala, the grinding machines inside these shops start stomping on the roasted spices.

Photo: Aman Deshmukh/LBB

Photo: Aman Deshmukh/LBB

After over an hour of thumping and grinding and indiscerable questions yelled over the sound, the mixture has been flattened into a powder, ready to be passed through a sieve and packed for sale.

Photo: Aman Deshmukh/LBB

On this lane, each shop has long jars of the different masala powders. These are all roasted in the same manner, but using different combinations of ingredients.

Photo: Aman Deshmukh/LBB

Photo: Aman Deshmukh/LBB

Garam masala, malwana masala, konkana masala, machi masala, kashmiri chilli powder, bhaji masala, kolapuri masala and even a special Sunday masala, each adding a different flavour to a dish.

Photo: Aman Deshmukh/LBB

In this market, in these gallis, the spices from the tiniest corners of India come together to be made into countless masalas – not indispensable but to the best of Indian cooks, all necessary.