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026: The Flavour of Spice (Book Review)

Updated: Apr 3, 2022

‘The Flavour of Spice’ (2017) by food critic Marryam H. Reshii is a must have resource for anyone interested in the 15 most commonly used spices in Indian kitchens. It is the kind of book that you cannot wait to curl up, dive in and read. Marryam

provides a fantastically concise and engaging overview of the ancient Arab trade routes, the spice wars, and the legacy of the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and British colonists who brought these spices to our kitchens.

She then literally hunts down each spice, travelling in person to the plantations where they are grown (Varuna Plantations, Coorg), factories where they are processed (the unassuming Sakthi factory, Erode) and the spice markets where they are traded (Gadodia Market, Chandni Chowk). You criss-cross India and some parts of the globe, as she vividly portrays the farmers, traders, chefs, and home-cooks she encounters on her journeys.

What I love the most about her book is the personal memories and associations with the spice (for instance buying zeera golis for less than ten paise; or the sudden insight that dal-chini means - bark of a tree from China). It highlights how quietly interwoven spices are in our daily lives. Each chapter ends with three to five assorted recipes compiled from her kitchen, celebrity chefs, colleagues and friends that celebrate that particular spice as the hero of the dish.

As one can see in the index of the book, the spices are grouped into three broad categories - the big four, the aromatics, and the seed spices. The grouping of the ‘big four’ - chili, cumin, turmeric and coriander perhaps shows a leaning towards recipes from North India, where “haldi, mirchi, dhaniya, jeera” form a culinary rhyme. One cannot imagine most dishes from East and South India without the inclusion of mustard as a heavy contender. But that is the beautiful thing about writing - we bring our childhoods, our ways of seeing and being in the world into everything that we write.

Highly recommended!

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