The French are Saucy, but not Spicy
Many expats move to lovely small towns in Provence and after a couple months being spoiled with ratatouille, slow cooked lamb, bouillabaisse and all other French Mediterranean delicacies, they start asking where is all the foreign food? It’s human nature to want more, isn’t it?
So pizza and the odd “nem chinois” available at the larger markets can be the extent of your horizon in some towns. Thankfully, there’s harissa and preserved lemons in many markets at the olive stands to mark the influence of Moroccan cuisine. But that’s about it!
Cook it at Home
Now, I’m not complaining (too much) because my man and I took to cooking curries and all kinds of particularly Asian flavours at home early on. We had, after all, moved to France from England at the time. International cuisine is the staple there! I also subscribe to my favourite food magazine, Delicious, which features recipes from all around the world on a monthly basis. I have to get my hands on those ingredients!
The French aren’t known for their love of spice. I once put too much pepper on a steak and had a Frenchie fanning his mouth as if it was a scotch bonnet! But, we can’t expect these Frenchies to be perfect, can we? They do have, after all, have Larousse Gastronomique.
If you’re living in a small town, your best bet is a large city in Provence. Many rural, even large grocery stores won’t carry such things as fenugreek, tamarind, hot smoked paprika, fennel seeds, Mirin sauce etc. Things are getting better, but I suggest going to Tam-Ky in Marseille. Stock up there to make your palate jump around with delight on that dreary Monday night.
A Beacon of Foreign Ingredients: Tam-Ky Noailles
I stumbled upon this incredibly well stocked “epicerie exotique” (as the French call it) during my first visit to Marseille. It’s right in the Noailles market, in the square full of Moroccan and Tunisian men drinking jugs of mint tea.
In addition to exotic imports of fruits and vegetables as well as a frozen section, this family-owned business also sells house-made Vietnamese specialities.
The first time I went in, I actually had to take out my notepad to write down some of the things I saw so that I could go home and look up how they’re used in international cuisines! Food Nerd. I know.
The other shoppers probably thought I was nuts and particularly annoying since there is very limited space in the narrow isles busting with cans, drinks, and spices of all countries. However, my jotting has allowed me to share with you this tantlizing, head-scratching list. Some of these I already know, but many I hadn’t imagined before I saw them at Tam-Ky.
To find Tam-Ky Noailles:
5 Rue Halle Delacroix (13001)
The Jottings of a Canadian in a Spice Store in Marseille… Can anyone tell me how to use them?
Weird and Wonderful Snacks.
Salted mustard leaves.
tamarind drinks, sugar cane juice
grains de curry (red annatto seed)
prawn crackers (oh so British!)
pickled gouramy fish, pickled crill
banana blossom in a can,
dried papaya strips
aubergines the size of peas!
bushels and bushels of Thai basil
Madagascar litchi jam, sweet potato jam, coconut jam, lime jam, baobab jam, corossol jam…
Hot tamarind sweets (robin scared to try them).
Jasmine rice in enormous bags,
dried hibiscuses flowers for tea
basil seed juice!
arome de cacao, plantain chips
agar gelatine and red dates.
Your regular grocery list or, a Food-lover’s poem? ha!