Somehow, I missed knowing that there was a specialty herb and spice shop in Lygon Street. Well, there is, and it’s called Gewürzhaus, and I’ve just been there. It’s absolutely marvellous. It’s also completely and utterly overwhelming – overwhelming is an understatement, actually, as I don’t know how to describe how I’m currently feeling. I’m sort of lurching around going ‘The smells! The smells!’ (just call me Quasinaso), and contemplating whether plain boiled potatoes with nothing on them might be a bit too rich, overspiced and exotic for dinner. I didn’t touch anything, but my hands smell of cinnamon and vanilla and paprika and truffle and I don’t think it will ever stop.
So my first tip for you is don’t do what I have done (can you hear the House of the Rising Sun playing?). Don’t go there at the end of a long work week when you are already tired, and then systematically go around and smell every herb, spice, salt or sugar blend in the shop. It’s too much.
But do go there, because it is an amazing shop, even if my tolerance for the heady, knock-you-over-the-head scent of it ran out after about ten minutes.
What do they have? Everything. Vanilla pods in huge jars, boxes and boxes of saffron, different kinds of dried chillis, really good sugar, chocolate infused with incredible things (I have some dark chocolate infused with vanilla salt; the white chocolate with lemon myrtle also looked wonderful, and they have a range of chilli chocolates), gorgeous ruffled aprons, cooking implements, cookbooks.
And tubs and tubs and TUBS of herbs and spices. There are drawers filled with individual dried herbs and spices, and I didn’t even look at those because there was so much else. There are buckets of herb and spice mixes, salts from all around the world, native Australian herbs and spices, sugar infused with nuts, spices and chocolate and salt infused with everything from lavender to black truffle (which was possibly the final thing that blew my head off). There are fine, powdered spice blends, and rough mixes of seeds like the Panch Phoron, a mix of mustard seed, nigella, cumin, fenugreek and fennel, which you would dry fry at the start of an Indian dish. There is a strange, beautifully Christmas-looking concoction called Mukhwas that tastes of fennel and of musk and is supposed to sweeten your breath and help your digestion at the end of a meal. There is the North Italian Risotto mix that just smelled like I want dinner to smell. There is a wonderful Viennese Christmas sugar consisting of large-grained cane sugar with hibiscus, star anise, rosehip, cassia, coriander, ginger, cloves and nutmeg, which I utterly failed to resist. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it – possibly just keep it where I can inhale it, or eat it with a spoon. It’s amazing.
There are spice and herb mixes for every possible cuisine – I saw spice mixes from all around Europe, from several regions of India, from the Middle East and Africa, from Asia, and of course from Australia. Incidentally, their Australian range was very, very good, and included a Macadamia Dukkah, bush pepper, roasted wattleseed, and several blends. And there’s a sausage roll spice blend, an Aussie Meat Pie spice blend, and even a Barbecue Blokes’ Spice mix, just to show that we really are Aussies here.
There was a fabulous and feisty Berbere spice mix, and a wonderful one called ‘Duck, duck, goose’ that was sweet and imbued with orange and nutmeg and star anise, and I’m not sure what else, but I wanted it. There was a bouquet garni mix, and, incidentally, you could buy infusion bags, too. The salts came from all over the world, and were black, grey, white, pink and even blue-tinted.
Best of all, every herb or spice blend and every infused salt or sugar had notes on the jar and on the packet (as you could buy everything either by the jar or by the gram in little customised paper packets) on the ingredients, the flavours, and how to use them in cooking. Sometimes this is about suggesting complementary ingredients or tips on how to cook with this particular mix; at other times, you get entire recipes. This makes it much easier to take a risk on an unknown combination – I’m not going to find myself at home staring at this spice and thinking, yes, it’s lovely, but now what do I do with it?
In the end, I managed to be relatively moderate. I bought vanilla pods, because I’m out of those, and some truffle salt, because it really was incredible. I bought the French Lavender Salt, because it was so fresh and beautiful and I loved the cooking suggestions on the side, and I bought the Viennese Christmas Sugar because it was just irresistible. I hesitated between several gorgeous European spice and herb mixes that all smelled deliciously like dinner, and chose Oma Rosa’s Gulasch, because I’m out of paprika, and that is one of the key ingredients. And I’ve just noticed the jar has Oma Rosa’s Gulasch recipe on the side – awesome! I bought the Panch Phoron, because while middle eastern spices are really easy to find around here, Indian spices are a little trickier to come by. And I bought the vanilla-salt infused dark chocolate, because I love salted chocolate, and vanilla can’t possibly make it worse.
This did set me back about $70, but then, I now have nearly half a kilo of fresh spice and herb mixes and infused sugars and salts (not to mention three gorgeous, juicy-looking vanilla pods), and lots of ideas for things to do with them. I think the value is actually pretty good.
Half of me wants to go right back and live there. The other half of me wants to go and lie down in a dark, quiet room with no smells whatsoever. I’ve never been simultaneously so delighted and so… well, almost repelled, to be honest. It was just too much, especially for someone like me, who cooks by smell rather than by taste. But I wanted more.
I’m glad to see that you can buy their range on line – if I can commit their blends to memory (which I don’t think will be very difficult at all), maybe I can order that way and not risk my sanity.
I do recommend this shop, especially if you are looking for something a bit out of the way. But I can’t repeat enough that you should NOT sniff your way through the entire stock. If you really must know what every single thing there smells like, I suggest making several visits and investigating different sections each time. It will be no hardship, I promise. And it will give your purse time to recover…