This morning, I decided to complete a choir that I have been planning to undertake for the last 3 months, clean the kitchen cupboards. I reached the food stuff, pulled out all my spice, oils, vinegars, and realised that, asides from the major need for organisation and labelling, I had collated a decent range of spices over the last year. People often say you can gage a person’s character by looking through their wardrobe or bookshelf. For me, I guess, one should trawl through my kitchen and fridge to realise the type of person I am, or should I say, the Dining Minx I really am.
My spice collection developed from purchases in food markets, speciality stores and supermarkets across Israel, England and the US. The most unusual blends I have found have been those in markets around the world, where individuals showcase blends that define their own food culture. In London’s Borough Market, spices are quietly tucked away in ready-to-buy plastic containers. In Israel, traders in the ‘shuk’ (market) display spices in large bowls, encouraging interaction between the customer and trader with opportunities to taste, touch and smell. Traders present their Moroccan, Libyan, Persian cultures through spice blends, which are used to turn raw ingredients into dishes their grandmother’s would serve, such as chamim and chreime. Spices are sold loosely and according to weight. Given this, I have a large number of spices stored in plastic bags, still awaiting decanting in their own container. I reuse glass jars to store spices, which I love, because it adds to the richness of the food history sitting on my shelf. Old piccalilli and jam jars bring me back to a time in London, and they in turn, no longer empty vessels, regain their pride as showcases for food experiences in my new life in Israel.
As I stood in front of the shelf, with the contents laid out on the work surface below, I was brought back to visits back home, trips to America and flavours I experienced enjoying their local cuisine. My favourite spice is La Chinta, a Spanish smoked paprika, which I bought in a Spanish speciality store in Portobello Market, London. I recommend mixing this with garlic slithers, olive oil and sea salt, as a simple and powerful smokey marinade to meat and poultry. My most scary purchases, which are still on guard in their boxes, are the Japanese ingredients bought in the Japanese speciality store, Atari-Ya, London. Nanami Togarashi, Japanese chilli powder made with orange peel, sesame, ginger and seaweed, Dashi, a seasoning for soup and bonito flakes, dried fish flakes used for seasoning, are presented in colourful, cartoon-animated boxes. Gazing at these, I am reminded of the time I scoured Atari-Ya’s shelves after having eaten their delicious and cheap sushi on uncomfortable high stalls with my mum and brother on a typically rainy Sunday afternoon. Fine, these aren’t spices, but I seriously love their packaging. They bring playful tones to cooking miso ramen soup.
My kitchen shelves host Indian masala spice blends (tandoori masala, 3 versions of garam masala and chaat masala), a range of chilli blends (La Chinata, Nanami Togarashi, hot paprika, Hungarian paprika, sweet paprika, local smoked paprika, hot chilli, chilli flakes and whole chillies) and several Middle Eastern spices (Fenugreek, Sumak, not actually a spice, but a ground dried berry, Baharath and Zahatar seasoning). I also love my “High Sierra” meat rub, a blend I found in a flee market in Nashville, and ingredients I cherish from my trip to Nazareth, black cardamon pods, lavender and rose tips.
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