Some of the best souvenirs of any trip are spices. They're light, reasonably priced and literally bring a flavor of your trip back home. Of course, it helps if you know what to do with them, but even if you don't, you probably know someone who does, and spices make a great gift. There's usually no problems with customs, as long as the item isn't a raw bean (eg, unroasted coffee beans) or meat product.
Educate yourself before you leave, learn what the common spices look like in various forms. During the trip, ask what gives the flavor to dishes you particularly enjoy. You may even be invited into the kitchen.
The best spices from Turkey are the many peppers -- everything from mild paprika, to hot red peppers. Usually powdered, they're also found in paste form, and if well packaged, these travel and keep well.
Saffron is available in several forms. It's not as good as Iranian or
Moroccan, but much cheaper, and for simple rice dishes, or soups, you just use
more. Watch out for 'Indian Saffron' -- it's just turmeric.
And there are now many different forms of Turkish Viagra -- from powdered ginger
to walnut stuffed figs.
Spices can be found in many tourist areas, but avoid the prepackaged lots,
often 5 or 6 spices on a foldout card -- these are both old and expensive.
Find a local market. In Istanbul, the
Egyptian Market is the exemplar. Some bargaining is expected, but just
by 10% or so. Do ask prices, since some spices, like sumak are several
times more expensive than more common ones. 100g should be enough
for most purposes (about 4 oz).
- Cumin - the National condiment, found with salt & pepper everywhere; the seeds of the small annual herb from the parsley family Cuminum
- Cardamom is the fruit of Elettaria cardamomum, a member of the
ginger family, which grows in the moist, tropical regions of Southern Asia
- Vanilla beans
- Cocoa pods
- Nutmeg & Mace are derived from the apricot-like
fruit of the evergreen tree
Myristica fragrans. When the fruit is ripe, it splits in half revealing
a deep red, net-like membrane that covers a brittle shell. The membrane is mace,
the shell nutmeg.
- Turmeric is
a rhizome of the tropical herb Curcuma longa. It's used in powdered form.
- Ginger is a light-brown rhizome of the plant Zingiber officinale
- Cayenne is made from the dried red skins of chilli peppers
- Cinnamon is the dried bark of an evergreen tree of the laurel family, Cinnamomum
zeylanicum is native to India and Sri Lanka.
is the sap from the roots and stem of a giant fennel-like plant which
grows wild in Central Asia. The sap dries into a hard, smelly resin and is
usually used ground
Buying spices, Egyptian Market, Istanbul
Spices, Egyptian Market, Istanbul
Spice shop, Istanbul
|Absurdly priced in the US, saffron is affordable in many
countries. You do need to know a little about the differences.
True saffron is made from the are the stigma (female organ) of the autumn
crocus, or Crocus sativus, but other 'saffrons'
are made from different flowers, sometimes even leaves. Mexican
saffron is one of these, it's very cheap, but gives a completely different
flavor (though quite good). Turkish saffron is very good, but
you need to use a loose teaspoon of threads where a recipe calls for a few
threads of Spanish saffron. In Morocco, several grades of
saffron are available, in both thread and powdered form. All are
good value and reasonably priced. Iranian saffron is some of the
best I've found, but priced accordingly.
In Turkey, you'll also find
'Indian Saffron', but this is really Turmeric, a different spice entirely
||Mostly unknown in the US, this is a common spice in the
Mideast. Use it to flavor grilled chicken or fish, or just sprinkle
lightly on a salad of tomatoes and sliced onions.
||Dozens of choices, so try tasting them and choosing what
you like best. In Turkey, commonly red pepper, with some browns.
Pepper pastes area also widely available. In Mexico, both
fresh and dried peppers are abundant, and the names change when a pepper
is dried -- anchos are
just the dried form of poblanos. Chipotles are the dried form of
||Good paprikas are widely available, with tastes varying
from sweet to moderately spicy.
||The national spice of Morocco -- found on most tables with
the salt and pepper. Used in many dishes here and in India, Mexico,
and the Middle East. Available in both powdered and seed form.
Roast the seeds to get a wonderful flavor
||The powdered form (made from the dried seeds) very
different from the fresh leaves and stems (also known as cilantro).
Used in cultures throughout the world. Use the fresh form in
dishes that call for parsley!
||The 'poor man's saffron', this spice is basic to many dishes in the Indian subcontinent, up through China. It provides a beautiful saffron color, and a distinctive taste. In the US it's most
commonly found as a coloring agent in chicken soup.