Thursday, June 29, 2006
The Spice of Life
I am ashamed to have used such a cliched heading, but my creativity is running a little low in this heat today. Apologies also for the badly photoshoped image. Anyway I digress.
Before I left the UK, a movie was released called Mistress of Spices starring Aishwarya Rai. I didn't watch it, as I knew the synopsis and knew that such a movie needed vast doses of passion, of which Aish has as much as a damp dishcloth. In the movie she plays a woman who uses the secrets of spices to help people, because due to some under-the-counter stuff she's probably been at, the spices talk to her to give her advice and warnings.
I don't profess to have such powers, but I do miss the spices I take for granted when they suddenly become so hard to find. I knew they existed somewhere, after all there is a budding Asian community here in Athens which would not be possible without certain staples. Chillies and turmeric are the frappe and feta of the Subcontinent.
My tolerance towards spices plummets every times I spend extended amounts of time in Greece and this time I wanted to maintain my tongue as suitably burnt and my insides nicely scarred. The spices, my little friends from the Hinterland, were tucked away somewhere in this city, beckoning me, talking to my spicy sixth sense "Fiiiind ussss, taaakeee usss hooooomeee, looook booooth waaaays when you cross the rooooaddd. Wooooo!"
So a few days ago, I was taken downtown with the promise of finding all the spices and ingredients I was missing. It was an offer I couldn't refuse, so I went and true enough, an entire labyrinth of spicy delights unfolded, each turn revealing another culinary chum I had pined for.
We got off at Monastiraki metro station and headed to Athinaia Street. My Athenian guide also was careful to instruct me when to speed up my walk past the junkies loitering at corners and passed out in doorways. Junkies, huh? I had just thought they were napping from the heat.
Unsavoury as it may be in one respect, this street is the place to go if you need Asian spices. Even the hard to find items turned up, like aniseed, green cardamom, Chinese gunpowder tea, whole cumin, mustard seed, turmeric, tamarind, small but lethal green chillies and mangoes (pickled, green or ripe). There's even a sweet shop selling jalebis and gulab jamuns if you fancy a sugar rush Asian style. Between these was everything and anything you would need to perfectly preserve a lifestyle from Back Home, from smelly carbolic soap to a Bollywood rental shop. Add to this a sprinkling of greasy haired freshies shouting “Hello! Hello! I love you!” and it feels as authentic as the real deal.
Image: Badly altered from http://www.sxc.hu/photo/279172