The non-veg section

November 27th, 20093:25 pm @

Scaling fish in INA market

A friend once accurately described Indian butcher shops as “interactive” – and there is possibly no more interactive place in Delhi to buy your dead animals than the INA Market.

Tucked into the back lanes of the market, past the overflowing fruit and vegetable shops and grocery stores, is a section of the market that could make a vegan out of the most red-blooded, card-carrying carnivore.

Crammed into the tiny covered alley are purveyors of fish, chicken, mutton – otherwise known as goat – and pretty much any other animal you might care to cover in oil and bung in the oven.

I’d been dispatched to get some chicken legs by my wife, who suggested I was more likely to choose good-quality produce. Despite usually being immune to her soft soaping, I knew there was no way I’d send her into a place you could smell from the street.

At the entrance to the flesh aisle stands a two-level fishmonger shop. Up top sit the guys taking orders from the customers below who point out the fish they want from the piles stacked out front. Down below a couple of guys hack the fish into pieces on enormous blades set into the floor. Occasionally, various fish parts and fluids fly into the lane, making their way into the open central drain and mixing with assorted anonymous fluids from the other shops.

Either side of the narrow lane is stuffed with chicken and mutton shops, each with raw pieces of flesh on display on trays and hooks inside, and live flesh on display in cages outside. Walking down the alley, past squawking chickens, turkeys and ducks as the rancid fluid from the open drain soaked my shoes confirmed my long-held view that many parts of India resemble what Dickensian London must have been like.

Moving from shop to shop I tried to decide which one offered the best-quality produce, but it was a losing game as they each looked equally unappealing. Eventually I spotted a shop that was larger than the others with a Delhi princess standing inside ordering some mutton. Impeccably dressed with oversized sunglasses, excessive gold jewellery and with jeans that suggested she liked her food, I figured I was onto a good thing. If she was shopping there, it was a safe bet they were good.

I went to what was clearly the “chicken” side of the shop and asked for four legs. The guy sitting on the bench sighed heavily and spoke to a colleague in Hindi, who promptly disappeared. I passed the time waiting for him to return watching the guys slice up the goat for my princess friend. With amazing dexterity they brought down enormous cleavers onto the meat, missing their own fingers by millimetres as they trimmed fat and sliced through bones.

From outside, the noise of the live poultry mixed with the calls of the people calling their orders to the fishmonger. Men walked up and down the alley with large round baskets on their heads calling out “Coolie! Coolie!” as they passed.

Finally my man appeared carrying the four chicken legs in a bag. When he pulled them out to wash them I realised where he’d been and why it took him a while – the legs were covered in blood and my guess was that they belonged to a couple of the fowl I’d earlier seen down the lane.

It’s not often I get this close to the meat I’m about to eat. I did once watch my farm-living cousin skin a rabbit he’d shot, but as a city dweller whole life my usual experience of getting hold of meat for dinner has always been butcher’s shops where the whole process is far removed from the reality.

Taking my bag of freshly harvested chicken I thanked my new friend and headed back to the saner parts of the market to find my wife.

“Everything okay?” she said.

“Don’t ask.”

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