City Landmark – Noori Masale, Bazar Chitli Qabar
The iconic spice shop.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Many people might fondly talk of “Noorie” as a beloved Hindi musical from 1979. It is particularly remembered for the Lata Mangeshkar song “Aaja re o mere dilbar aaja”. Many others, especially those with a passion for haleem and aloo gosht, might talk of an altogether different “Noori” — spelt differently, but the pronunciation is the same. It is a spice shop in Old Delhi’s Chitli Qabar.
Not a city secret, the masalas of this Purani Dilli landmark are used in many homes and establishments. But this is not a grocery where one can roam about the aisles. The shoppers are obliged to stand outside the store, right on the street. Several staffers sit by the shop’s long counter, who pass on the demands of this or that masala (or dry fruit) to the staffers inside, who then take out the concerned pack from a shelf.
This evening, the air is filled with the chatter of “give me haldi”, “give me stew masala”, “give me Bombay Biryani masala”, “give me sabudana” and so on. The mild-mannered Akif Azam, the shop’s young scion, is smoothly presiding over the operations from his elevated desk. He appears to know every customer. A passerby stops to inform him, over the general din, of the recent death of a certain gentleman from Dehradun who would drive all the way to Delhi to get spices from this shop.
The shop was founded by Mr Azam’s great grandfather, the leather merchant Sadiq Ali, in 1928. At that time, only mirchi powder, dhaniya powder and chhali katha (supari) were on sale. The spices would be processed in a “chakki” installed at the owner’s still existing family mansion in nearby Pahari Bhojla. The founder had named the shop after his son, Noor Ahmad. Over the years, the name was changed to Noori, explains Mr Azam.
Today, the business has expanded, he says, and the masalas are parcelled across the country. “We have eight godowns in the area, and we make the masalas at our factory in Sahibabad Industrial Area, Site IV… my papa, Muhammed Azam, sits there.” The shop offers spice mixtures for 28 dishes, including achar gosht, dahi bada and white qorma. The masala for the nihari dish is exceptional, asserts Sabeeha Jhinjhianvi, a homemaker who lives seven shops away.
One of the shop’s charms lies in its machine-packed masala packs. The back of each “dabba” carries the recipe of the concerned dish in Hindi, Urdu and English. The corner is marked with the shop’s logo, an image of Red Fort.
The shop opens from 9.30am to 8.30pm. It is closed on Sundays. That day, Mr Azam stays at home, which is no longer in Old Delhi but across the Yamuna in Preet Vihar. Like a multitude of native Walled City dwellers, the family moved out of the congested quarter in 1995.
Now, a woman arrives. She places her many shopping bags on the counter and asks for kofta masala.
Long loved and long tasted