For one of our first dates, my soon-to-be Aussie husband invited me to dinner at his apartment. When I walked in the door, these wonderful smells surrounded me; he was cooking Indian food. As I was a novice Indian food eater, I hung around the kitchen watching the action. He had a pot bubbling away with some mixture that looked like lentils, (dal) he had some other meat stew simmering on the stove, (pork vindaloo) and he was frying some seed things in oil until they popped. (mustard seeds and dry urad dal) I was fascinated. Trying to keep out of the way, I stepped over by the pantry and being nosy, peered in. On those shelves were jars and packets of things I had never heard of. Garam Masala. Lime pickle. Sambal Manis. What were these strange and wondrous things?
My mother – bless her Midwestern heart – had about 10 different spices in the house, the most exotic being Marjoram - which for my entire childhood had the same level of dried herb in the jar. Because we had lived in Japan for a while, she managed to broaden her horizons with soy sauce and fresh ginger. That was the extent of my exposure to spice.
Well, this experience with Indian food started me down a long (and ever-growing) path of going to ethnic markets and picking up jars of things that look interesting. Indian and Asian seem to have the most variety, but there are also Middle Eastern additions like sumac and rose water that have caught my eye. And now I have a spice/condiment cupboard that looks like this. What a happy sight!