Here in China, so many spices to discover, so little time to smell them all. Every part of this planet has its own treasure to be discovered and to me, the world of spices and herbs is one yet, to be mastered by me anyway.
I have a real interest in spice, herbs, teas, anything that involves leaves and seeds. There is so much culture behind them all. Few weeks ago, I went to a local spices market here nearby and I was in heaven, could not get enough of the wonderful aroma of them all. I did the same trip back in Mexico, always searching for the culture involved behind the scene and I did the same when I was in Paris last year, actually exactly this time in May.
In the local street nearby, I went with my nose and naked to the knowledge of the language in Shenyang. Not too worry too much; my nose could do the work of searching and of discovering. I was looking for cumin, very simple cumin but the Chinese cumin, which is a big difference. You see, this is why spices for me are such a mystery because for example cumin here in Shenyang is not the same cumin than in Mexico, local cumin I am talking here, not the import one.
The cumin here has a tangy taste, and a kind of lemony smell to the nose, a very light lemony. It is not as offensive as the one I have found in Paris last year. The Mexico cumin has a kind of sweet tangy taste to it, very light sweetness and no lemony at all in it. Chinese does not use cumin much in their cuisine. I do.
I remember back in Mexico, they would use cilantro in almost all their dishes and it took me months to get use to the taste of this herb, found anywhere on the land. Cilantro for Mexican is like Persil for me. A green leafy herb to give colors and tang to a dish. Each culture has its own ‘baby’ secrets when it comes down to ‘bam’ up a dish.
So this is what I did this morning, sorting out my none identified yet spices. What I did was using my nose, going through little bags of spices and herbs and using the internet, I got them all identified, finally.
‘Five spices’ has many variants but the most common is : anise, cloves, cinnamon, pepper and fennel. Here in China, five spices is base on the concept of ‘yin and Yang in food’ : sweet, sour, bitter, pungent and salty. The pepper used in the ‘five spices’ is what the locals call : ‘chinese prickly’ or Sichuan. It brings numbness to the tongue actually and this is how I got to recognize it. It is not to forget that most of the herbs and spices we use are in reality, for medicinal reason to start with, just like tea here. ‘Five spices’ is mostly used with meat and veggies food.
A versatile seasoned salt can be easily made by stir frying common salt with ‘five spices’ powder under low heat in a dry pan until the spice and salt are well mixed.