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Spicy South Africa - Shopping for Spices in Durban

Written by  Denise Dube

Durban SpiceMarket



Durban SpiceMarketSome say, variety is the spice of life. Those who travel frequently certainly know the truth in that statement. But, sometimes, variety is in the actual spice, or the variety of spices in life. 

I learned that lesson on a recent trip to Durban, the largest city in South Africa. According to more than a dozen locals, Durban, located in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, is home to the biggest Indian population outside of India. 

Not only will you find excellent Indian cuisine in Durban, you’ll also find the spice markets where you can buy whatever you need to make those dishes at home. Even if you’re not a chef, browsing the aisles of a spice market is a very cool travel experience.

The Indian influence is felt throughout the city. Its signature and most popular meal is Bunny Chow, a hollowed out chunk of bread overflowing with spicy orange finger-licking meat, fowl or veggie-filled curry. Bunny Chow is simple fare; some might even call it “fast food,” especially since you can eat it on the run. 

More complex and varied Indian delicacies are served in the city’s many Indian restaurants. That’s great while you’re in Durban, but what happens when you’re home trying to recreate a few Indian meals? 

Recently, I was in Durban attending Indaba 2013, South Africa’s top tourism and travel convention. The exhibits and meetings filled my head and notebook with South Africa’s endless enchantments, but did little to satiate my itchy feet and barren taste buds. 

So, on the third afternoon, I skipped out of the Durban International Convention Center, hailed a cab and headed for Victoria Market. Once known as the Durban Indian Market, it was established in 1910 and rebuilt after a 1973 fire. The market is housed in a pink stucco-like building with green accents and offers spices, recipes and information to anyone with a desire to make an authentic Indian dish. 

Once there, I wove through the street-like alleys of the market. The aroma of red pepper, coriander, cumin and ginger pulled me toward Madari & Sons shop. Mr. Madari, now the owner, is the grandson of the man who started the business. He gave me a lesson in the spices that create different curry powders and told me how each works individually, depending upon a
person’s preference. 

While his mother checked the table overflowing with bowls of turmeric, cumin, red pepper, fennel, garam masala, and other blended spices, he walked around and spoke of varying flavors made just by combining spices. He pointed to the three towering mountains of red spice and said they created the heat degrees in Indian food. Paprika, he said is mild, chili is hot, and piri piri (or peri peri) is, he said, “mama mia” hot. The chili is the core of his curry, he said. From there he adds ginger, garlic, cinnamon, cardamom, clove and a few other spices.  

His blends are so popular, Madari recently created Delhi Delight, an exclusive curry mix that includes the ingredients he listed, plus a few secrets dashes of this and that. His Delhi Delight, is, “Curry in a hurry,” he said, and comes in mild, medium and hot. He asked about my food preferences and together we decided on the hot version. The scent alone is enough to drive you into your kitchen to experiment with or
without recipes. 

I snuck back to the convention, a bit wiser, happier and with a bag of spices. Later that day, I tucked Madari’s Delhi Delight and other prepackaged spices into my luggage. I’ve made a few superb curried soups and stews since my return, but now wonder how I’ll get more once this jar is empty. Madari has an email and a telephone number, but no website, yet. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll have one finished soon. 

Or, maybe I’ll just have to get on another South African Airway’s jet ( and visit
Durban again. 

It’s win win, either way.

For more information about South Africa, visit  For more information about the Durban Metro area, visit


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