The Spice Seller

I love spice markets.  Seeing all the different colours and textures heaped up in bags or baskets.  There’s something very appealing about it!  The smells are enticing.  All the different shapes are so fascinating…star anise, sticks of cinnamon, strands of saffron, small corns of pepper, assorted powders in a rainbow of colours.  How can you not be drawn to a spice market?  I think we miss out in the West, by just buying our spices in generic bottles or bags at the supermarket.  Especially if you like to cook, a spice market is a prime destination!  Because, of course, fresh spices are so much better than dried, bottled ones.

So when I was out walking last weekend, I passed a few spice sellers and realized that I was actually in need of some cumin.  So I stopped at one stall and started talking to the owner.  He was serving another woman, but while finishing with her, he asked what I needed.  I told him I needed cumin, so he scooped some onto a piece of paper and brought it to me so that I could smell it to test its freshness.  I was going to leave after buying my cumin, but I looked at the star anise and decided maybe I should get some of that too.  I like to make my own chai from scratch, so fresh spices are best for that.  The only thing is, that with some language challenges, the spice seller misunderstood what I wanted and started gathering assorted spices into his bowl.  I wasn’t sure what he was doing…I thought I had asked just for star anise, but apparently I was getting a mix, for what I thought was for tea.  But no, I was wrong again!  This was a mix to put into your food when cooking…star anise, fennel, cinnamon, some unrecognizable spices, peppercorns, and more.  So after he finished with that, I decided to also ask if he could make me a tea mix (having abandoned my quest for star anise).  This mix had star anise, cinnamon, cardamom, peppercorns, and more.

In order to make both mixes, he went around his bags, taking a pinch of this, a pinch of that, adding them to the bowl he was holding.  There was no measuring…he had obviously done this before and knew what ratio of spices he wanted!  He then took them all to a giant mortar and pestle, poured the spices in, and started pounding!  When they were the consistency he wanted, he poured them into a bag, tied it up and handed it to me.  It was so fun to watch!  Nothing earth shattering, really, but coming from Canada, it was certainly never a part of my daily life there, so it felt very exotic!

Here you can see the process in motion…

2014-02-15_0010Collecting the spices.

2014-02-15_0011The mix.  (I think this was the one for tea).

2014-02-15_0004In the mortar and pestle.

2014-02-15_0006Pounding.

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And then, the finished product, ready to go…

2014-02-15_0012

Yum!

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