The Spice Tour
I went on a museum tour (the National Museum of Singapore) last Sunday. My brother announced to my friends that I was on the tour for the umpteenth time. He was right, because I couldn’t remember how many times I had been to the museum. Every time I asked my brother to do a guided tour for my friends, he always obliged. I enjoyed the tours because every time I learnt something new. In my latest visit, I had a new appreciation for pepper.
Destination Spice Islands
Pepper, which is now an essential and basic spice that is added to almost every dish, was once a precious commodity, which only the rich could afford. Ships sailed from the West to the Spice Islands (North East of Indonesia) as early as the fifteenth and the sixteenth century to carry pepper back to Europe. Pepper was one of the commodities that started international trade. Singapore was an important port and a stopover destination for ships on their mission to the Spice Islands.
Pepper’s international appeal
South Asian and South East Asian cuisine are known to be spicy. In recent years, we have been introduced to Chinese mala noodles. Mala means numbingly spicy. The Sichuan peppercorns give mala noodles their distinctive fiery taste.
I did some reading and found out that pepper was used as medicine in ancient India and China before it became popular as a condiment in Roman times and in Europe in the medieval times. Indian traders introduced pepper to Indonesia, which then became the main supplier of pepper for the West. Greeks, Egyptians and Arabs …everyone wanted pepper in their cuisine. We could say that pepper became the spice of life.
Pepper and world history
There was a time when pepper was worth more than silver and gold. In medieval times it was even used as currency.
Pepper certainly has its place in world history. It also has its place in our family history (my brother’s and mine, that is). Our great grandfather had a pepper plantation in Vietnam. I never realised the significance of that fact until now. I only knew that he was well-travelled and spoke many languages. I supposed in his time, pepper was big business and it took him places.
Spices and feast days
Pepper is no longer a luxury condiment, but some spices remain very expensive. I was surprised that a few short strands of saffron could cost $10. But it is the spice that makes paella rice yellow (see featured image), and if you want to make a good paella, you have to invest in saffron. We only have paella once in a while on special occasions, so saffron is a feast day spice.
Today is a special day, it’s the feast of Corpus Christi and Father’s Day.
Anne Lise’s Feast day cake
Spices are also used in baking. Anne Lise attended a big anniversary celebration in London this week. She baked a meringue pumpkin cake, which she said was “Delish with a glass of champagne.”
I found a recipe on the internet, it had cinnamon among the ingredients.
Val’s Fish days packed lunches
Spices are a must on ordinary days, especially when meals are simple.
A bit of salt and pepper go a long way.
Japanese cuisine probably uses the least spices, the main spices being cinnamon, black pepper, cloves and turmeric.
Val sent photos of her Friday packed lunches.
“Japanese oden for work today! Stewed fish cakes of lots of varieties.” Val.
“Made a very inauthentic version of chirashi sushi for lunch today. Underneath the shredded eggs is grilled white snapper, with soy-marinated salmon around it.
I think I send you my meals on Fridays because the real penance is figuring out what to cook with fish on Fridays forces me to be creative.” Val.
Feeling better days
For those recovering from an illness, it’s great to be able to test the taste buds with some well seasoned food, especially for those recovering from Covid.
Elena’s recommendations for making the sick feel better are:
Prepare a pretty tray
Add some small details like appetizers
Don’t forget to put something sweet
The banana flowers
I had an early start to the day and discovered more little flowers around the neighbourhood.
A well-kept secret is the banana flower! The banana tree has flowers which attract bees. The flowers are hidden in the heart of the banana, which is why they are rarely seen.
The best things in life are still free and for everyone to enjoy.
Happy Feast Day and Happy Father’s day.
By Chayo, HomSkil’s Editor 1, 19 June 2022