I would love to tell you I found my spice shop down a dusty alley, approached via a crumbling archway and a heavy carved door, worn smooth from the many hands that have, over time, pushed their way through. The old Central souk is a thing of the past in Abu dhabi, replaced after a fire in 2003, by three skyscrapers in which the New Central Souk takes up the ground floor. It has lost the simplicity and romance of the mismatched signs, the tattered flag bunting strung across the alley ways and the chipped and peeling paint; all replaced with neat wood store fronts, the heat and dust of the day kept at bay by dark slatted wood and air conditioning.
None the less I was on a search for spices. I had in my mind, images of piles of brightly coloured powders, fragrant cumin tumbling from sacks and chunks of semi opaque frankincense heaped beside terracotta burners, just waiting for the heat from the charcoal, to emit its distinctive sweet, aromatic fragrance. Instead, in the first store, I found plastic buckets with fixed lids containing various spices that were about as inspiring as shopping at Lidl. Then, down the next aisle Mr Glam spotted the sacks, the frankincense and all the other elements of a spice importers shop.
Top of my list was Iranian Cumin, there is a richness and depth to the fragrance, rather than just a vague whiff of old washing that often greets you when you open the supermarket packet. Then Za’atar, which I wanted to mix with olive oil and spread on warm flat bread. Some fresh, vibrant cardamom and finally camomile tea, complete with bold yellow flower heads and bursting with aroma. Then it was free style all the way. Dried lemons zingy and fresh smelling despite their hard brittle exterior, a curry mix, fragrant and spicy, a tea mix, full of floral notes and the distinct aroma of fennel and black lemons. Citrusy, smoky and very seductive.
The shop owner told me to place them under chicken or lamb when I roast it and then stir into cooked rice. This suitably vague recipe, full of promise, is still waiting to be made. Have you ever free styled in a spice shop and do you have any hints for using my black lemons?
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