Growing up, my favorite meals were boxed macaroni and cheese and microwaved plates of nachos. (Or “chips and cheese,” as I so imaginatively called it then. To this day I remember my four-year-old self being EXTREMELY skeptical when I was told it was an actual dish, and was called “nachos.” Um, no, I’m pretty sure I invented this, and it’s called chips and cheese. Get it right!)
Ahem. My point is, the foods I grew up with weren’t exactly steeped in culture or tradition. As an adult, I look around and see so much diversity in American cuisine, but as a kid, my meals were anything but eclectic, and had very little heritage behind them. I never had the chance to stand beside my grandparents in the kitchen, and even if I had, chances are all I would have learned from them would be to open cans of vegetables and overcook meats.
Perhaps because of my rather midwest upbringing, I’ve always been fascinated by the foods of different cultures, and all the tradition and heritage and love that comes from passing down recipes from generation to generation. One of my dreams has always been to travel the world, if only to experience all of the new-to-me flavors. I think Andrew Zimmern once said something like: if you want to know a people, dine with them. So true.
To experience another culture through food would be a dream come true, but of course, jetting around the globe isn’t exactly practical (unless you can get a show on the travel channel doing exactly that — well played, Mr. Zimmern, well played). Since I can’t visit in person all the destinations I’d like to, I occasionally muster up the courage to try my hand at making exotic dishes in my own kitchen. Of course, that presents a lot of challenges. When making something completely unfamiliar, the hardest part by far is knowing where to begin…
That is, knowing where to begin was the hardest part, until I discovered this thing called Raw Spice Bar. Have you heard of this? (Okay, you probably have because I am soooo not ahead of the curve on this one, but bear with me.)
Raw Spice Bar is an online company that puts together custom spice blends from all around the globe, and sends them right to your door. Each month has a different regional theme, and comes with a few recipes and a little info about that month’s cuisine. Basically, you get to experience a few totally new dishes each month, without having to second guess whether you’re doing it right or if it’s authentic or not, and without having to get a passport and hop a plane across the ocean. It’s like your tastebuds get to take a vacation, and you don’t even have to leave home.
Malaysian food (the theme of my first month’s spice box), is a hodgepodge of ethnic diversity, with influences from India, China, and Thailand to name a few, all morphing together into a flavor all its own. The Curry Laksa recipe which came with my spice packets was hands down some of the best curry I’ve ever tasted, and worlds apart from anything I’ve attempted to make on my own — the perfect blend of sweetness from the coconut milk, heat from the Sambal Oelek (a paste made of ground chiles, lime, and garlic), and that bright punch of acidity from fresh lime juice. It was like sitting down to dinner at an amazing restaurant, except I had sourced all the ingredients (besides the spices) myself, and was in control of everything that went into the finished dish.
Seriously, how good does that look?
I’m a firm believer that the quality of a dish is determined, ultimately, by the sum of all the things that go into making it — that goes for spices, too. For a long time I was skeptical that there was any real difference among spices, because I was always buying the same old bottles and jars at the supermarket. When I started buying whole and freshly ground spices, I was completely blown away by the difference it made in my cooking. That’s one thing I was really impressed with from these Raw Spice Bar blends — each blend is ground from whole spices just days before shipping, so they are about as fresh as you can get without grinding them yourself.
If you aren’t convinced that freshness matters when it comes to spices, be prepared to change your mind, because Raw Spice Bar has given me a super secret discount code (okay, maybe it isn’t so secret) for me to share with you! If you’re interested in giving them a try, now is the time to do it — just enter the code “freshspices” when you checkout, and you’ll get 50% off your first month.
(Pro tip: this would make the PERFECT gift for anyone who’s even a little adventurous in the kitchen. When you go to checkout, just check the “this is a gift” box, enter the recipients mailing address, and you’ll get a gift certificate you can give to them letting them know they’ll be getting their first box soon. If you’re still scrambling over last-minute holiday gifts, this might just be the solution you’re looking for.)
There is really only one downside to all of this, and that is if you find a spice blend or recipe you really love, you can’t go back and re-order that exact blend again. At least, not yet — the folks at Raw Spice Bar tell me this is something they’re working on, so hopefully in the future you will be able to get all the indivudual spice blends you want. (Because let’s be honest, I would be ordering that curry blend in a heartbeat.)
Have you tried Raw Spice Bar? If so, share your thoughts in the comments below!
This post was sponsored by Raw Spice Bar — but even if it wasn’t, I would still gladly share it with you! I only ever partner with companies I truly believe in and use myself, and would honestly recommend to my own friends and family. Being able to support a brand I love, while doing what I love, is one of the things which makes this blog possible!