Stories

Spoiled by Spice

Women harvesting saffron in Herat, Afghanistan, www.nydailynews.com

 At a hillside resort on a beautiful undeveloped island in Thailand – surrounded by rubber trees, little monkeys, and rocky islands like sprinkles in a swirl of sunset – I cried in the dining room. I was fully in tears, a grown-up on vacation, because the food was bland.

The resort food was tasteless, stripped of its soul for supposed soulless people like me. A motorbike rental later and a trip through the winding island back roads, rain dripping off my helmet and making my sarong stick to my legs, had us at a local market eating spicy fish curry. I was smiling again.

My search for spice might’ve been just a spoiled girl stubborn in her standards, but the spice trade has had the world in tighter grips than even mine for centuries. Andrew Dalby’s The Story of Spices is a history of spices and aromatics, telling the story of their discovery, history, and use. From saffron to balsam of Mecca, we read about the roadways and seaways created through the spice trade.

 

The story of spice is also one told by Manjoor Estate Haute Spice, a New York-based company creating healing drinks spiced with turmeric and saffron. The products are inspired by founder Sunitha Ramaiah’s home in the Blue Mountains of southern India. She describes her memories of the kitchen, warm milk with saffron, chai tea, burning wood, and other bits of sensory poetry and she offers us cardamom coffee yogurt and ginger coconut water. I’d rather find my own spice in the Blue Mountains, but I’ll take what I can get without a journey.

Whether it’s wet mud island roads, caravans across the desert, or a harrowing trip to Dean and Deluca, spice is nice. Recently, even in Kabul, where a trip to the grocery store could be truly harrowing (and not for risking your latte getting cold while hailing a cab home with your organic goods), I still made it a priority to seek out a small container of local saffron. I know I wasn’t the first here on the search for saffron. Better than bland, spoiled by spice.