To more jaded eyes, globalized cuisine might look like a river of Golden Arches stretching Vegas to Varanasi, but those waters flow both ways — it means a Big Mac by the Ganges, but it also means being able to find a damn fine curry on the Strip. Time was, folks would kill for a peppercorn, and who could blame those stoic Middle Ages sufferers, choking down their stale bread and warm beer? Fleets were launched, caravans dispatched, and today, our spice racks runneth over, and we don’t have to saddle up the camel train to resupply. Still, as easy as spices are to find — once, each clove took a months-long, seven-thousand-mile trip from Indonesian forests to British plates; now it’s floating in your corner-store autumnal latte — the best still come from the farthest corners. Rarity remains, and it makes the richest seasoning. So we scoured the markets to bring you the best, and spiciest, fare we could find. The world might have gotten smaller, but thankfully, if you shop right, it can still taste pretty big.
Romesco Sauce // Victoria Amory // Greenwich, CT
Too many cooks? Forget it. While lonely hermits might perfect a single dish — the solitary craftsman and his perfect sourdough, the mountaintop monk with his transcendent cup of tea — truly exciting food comes down well-trod paths, the more footprints the better. That is to say: more influences, more flavor. No wonder some of the best is Catalan, from northeast Spain’s slow-simmered stew of cultures, Mediterranean, Moroccan, French, Basque, Castilian. Victoria Amory captures them all here, in a deeply flavored tomato sauce studded with almonds, hazelnuts, pimentón, and roasted garlic. Use simply, over pasta or to top a quickly roasted whitefish, and let its crowded choir of voices sing.
Mina Shakshuka // Casablanca Foods // New York, NY
Take your standard red sauce and send it packing: on a gap-year walkabout, from safe suburban kitchens to sun-flamed desert sands, on a dusty bus ride through North Africa, to a wandering sunset in the souk, its maze of billowing tapestries, smoke, mint tea, lost amid the pyramids of spice, piled high in dizzying array. Let it go native, toasted by the heat and simmered in the scents and flavors of Morocco. Now welcome it to your kitchen, heat slowly in a humble pan, add an egg or two, cook and spoon on rustic bread, then taste, and be transported.
Indian Curry // Entube // Los Angeles, CA
What makes a classic curry? A dash of this, a pinch of that, a secret ad hoc mix of turmeric and chili, earthy cumin and sweet fennel, slow-cooked for hours, long to make and hard to find. What makes it otherworldly? The unexpected citrus spark of acerola berries and a travel-friendly package to bring its exotic mix of flavors anywhere you go. Forget waiting all day stove-side for the spices to meld just right; Entube is a squeeze away. And a perfect autumn meal is as simple as a quick sauté of sauce, onions, olive oil, and coconut milk, simmered with mussels and served with lime and cilantro.
Biltong // Brooklyn Biltong // Brooklyn, NY
In South Africa, biltong is a way of life. Everyone makes the salty sweet meat treats, but Brooklyn Biltong’s founder Ben was lucky: his Granddad’s was the best in town, and he spent his childhood filling paper bags with handfuls at his family’s Pretoria butcher shop. While you and your buddies suffered through Slim Jims, Ben snacked on juicy, rich strips of air-dried goodness. He still makes it the old way: marinated with spices and slowly cured, not dehydrated, and never heated so it stays supple and chewy, even though it’s built to last, staying fresh on pantry shelves or stuffed in saddlebags for a long road ahead — as if you can wait to dig in.
Spice Peanuts // Lush Gourmet // Portage, MI
Working for peanuts? We say, peanuts work for you. The little legume that could can, and does, just about everything: slipped into chocolate bars, pressed into milk, spread onto, well, anything. Peanuts are a workhorse, which is a nice way of saying: boring as the dirt from whence they came. And that’s OK. Bland blank canvasses, they’re vehicles for extra flavor. Judge not the nut, but its shell, the things it carries. And these bring epic cargo, a worldly, warming blend of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg, spicy sweet and satisfyingly salty.
House Blend Coffee // Intelligentsia // Chicago, IL
Island spice bazaars are a swirl of sensory gifts — colored sacks of powders and pods, soft silk tapestries in the breeze, and, of course, the smells, fruit and earth and sun and sugar and, above it all, the smoky wisps of deep-brewed coffee, poured pitch dark but tasting bright as green apple and citrus, sipped from thimble cups amid the market fray. Now mix it all together: Take this full-flavored blend of light, fruity Costa Rican, Guatemalan, and El Salvadoran beans, brew strong and simmer with cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon, then serve swirled with honey, and let your senses fly to Marrakech.
October 2017 Mantry | Spice Route Mantry