For the First Time Visitor...
Posted on 26 December 2016
Where my family comes from, cooking without fresh spices is unheard of. My home state of Karnataka, in the south west part of India, grows over ten varieties of spices locally. Familiar names such as peppercorn, cardamom, vanilla and garlic are staples where I grew up, as well a few that will sound exotic to western ears, like kokum or turmeric leaves.
When I left India, I took along plenty of spices so that my family could always enjoy the familiar flavors we grew up with. Over the years, we've had the pleasure of incorporating different ingredients and techniques to our cooking repertoire. Whenever I returned home for family visits, though, my mother always had enough of her special curries ready for me to take back -- enough until the next visit. My mothers spice mixes weren't just for me, though. In fact, my family ( and when an Indian person says family, we mean the whole extended family), our neighbors, and even friends from afar sought out my mother for her signature blends
Unfortunately, we all must get older. My mother finds it more difficult to prepare her famous curries (a lot more work than you would expect is involved), so it falls on me to keep up the tradition.
Times have changed, of course. When my mother was cooking for us kids, there was no such thing as "organic" food. All the food we ate was healthy and almost always locally grown. I've found it difficult to find the same quality of spices I grew up with. I remember following along with my mother to the local market, where we would emphatically copy the way she sniffed a handful of cardamom pods, or questioned a merchant about which method was used to dry their saffron. Without ever really explaining a thing, my mother taught us how to tell the good from the bad...and the best from the good!
Now we have the internet and supermarkets. So many choices! But, more than ever, it's hard to tell the bad from the good, and it's next to impossible to get the top quality spices like my mother used to carefully select from markets where virtually all of the products were of a higher quality than most retailers offer today. And I hardly need to say it, but spices can be downright expensive. Too expensive to waste money on something too aged or over processed that it's lost it's perfect, natural flavor; or worse, grown in soil contaminated with dangerous pesticides.
It hasn't been easy, but after years of traveling back forth from India to my home in Canada, making phone calls and sending emails, sampling just about every spice from every distributor from Bengaluru to California, and investing more money than I probably ought to have, I've finally weaved a web of enough connections to keep a spice cabinet my mother would approve of.
Sitar is derived from my parents' names. A lot of the spice recipes in the store come directly from my mother. I am proud to offer these. I hope you and your family will enjoy them as much as my family does.