What’s going on in your kitchen pantry? If you’re an expat or a traveler and have friends who roam the earth as well, you’ll often end up with a variety of exciting food substances and mind-altering fun hootch in your kitchen: Lovely gifts, or purchases you’ve made yourself.
So I thought I’d introduce you to my pantry and the culinary party within.
Cozying up against the Plain-Jane flour, tuna and pasta you’ll see (among others) an exotic coffee dancer from Burundi, a honey bear from Liberia and peanuts gone grainy from Haiti. It’s an orgy of gustatory delights in there.
COFFEE FROM BURUNDI, EAST AFRICA
My mate brought this home for me when he made a business trip to Burundi, a small country in East Africa. The capital is Bujumbura, which is a word my mouth just loves playing with: Bujumbura. Try it. Doesn’t it just have a lovely sound? The coffee was lovely too. It’s a major cash-earning crop in the country and if you want to try it buy it from Sweet Maria or other online stores.
ZA’ATAR AND SUMAC FROM THE MIDDLE EAST
I learned to love these two Middle Eastern kitchen staples when I lived in Ramallah, Palestine. Za’atar is a mixture of dried herbs, sesame seeds and sumac. Many varieties are found all over the area. Mixed with olive oil it is delicious on bread. You’ll find it in hotels on breakfast buffets along with olives and other foods that Americans and western Europeans don’t think of as breakfast food. Living abroad is an adventure! Olives for breakfast!
Sumac is dark red and crunchy, the ground-up dried berries of a sumac shrub that grows in the Mediterranean area, aka Rhus coriaria. (Not the same variety grown further north in Europe and the USA known to be poisonous.) It has a tart, lemony flavor and is delicious on barbecued chicken, for example.
When my husband was in Ramallah for a quick consulting job some time ago, a friend there gave these two bags to him to give to me.
TROPICAL RAIN FOREST HONEY FROM LIBERIA
I love this honey. See how dark it is? It has a strong exotic flavor and I like my flavors strong. I used to buy forest honey in Ghana when I lived there (in a recycled beer bottle) and it was thick and dark like molasses. You could just feel it going to work on clearing your body of toxins. (Oops. No, I did not live in a recycled beer bottle, but the honey did.)
Also from Liberia hails a jar of “pepper sauce” the color of dull mustard. The list of ingredients on the label: pepper, bonnie powder, smoke fish, vegetable oil, onions, black pepper, season all. I’m giving this one a pass.
BOTTER BITTER FROM THE NETHERLANDS
This distilled herbal concoction was especially bottled in this pretty bottle for friends of mine, people who love cruising the lakes and seas of the Netherlands, Denmark and lands further north in their boat and offer them as gifts to friends. They swear by this magic elixer and gave me a bottle to take back to my American husband. The golden liquid has a distinct bitter, medicinal flavor, is 32 % alcohol, and made with a secret blend of many herbs and who knows what else. A shot glass along with a cup of tea on a cold afternoon while you’re boating on a chilly day will warm you up and fight off colds. So I am told. Two shot glasses might even work better. I am slowly working my way through it. I should be ashamed of myself because this wonderful tonic is created right in my home town of Sneek in the Netherlands. I’m going to have me a few sips right now.
COFFEE FROM GUATAMALA
More coffee, also nice. Love the bag it comes in! I have a collection of coffee from all corners of the earth, and may never have to buy coffee again, except, of course, Italian espresso, which nobody gives me.
PEANUT GRANULES FROM HAITI
What can I say? I have no idea what it is used for. If anyone has an idea, let me know. I suppose I can bake cookies with it. Also from Haiti I have a jar of grapefruit-cherry jam which is so sweet it makes my teeth ache.
THYME TEA FROM ARMENIA
I loved drinking this while I lived in Armenia, and now I have friends who will periodically schlep it across ocean and continent to please me. Thyme tea tastes like, well, thyme. It is a non-alcoholic potion that is said to cure an interesting assortment of conditions such as (to name a few) lung congestion. flatulence, night mares in children, menstrual cramps, infected gums, sprains. The tea is popular all over the Middle East.
Update: Check out this site where you can buy online beautiful organic teas from Armenia: http://www.mountaintea.am
HONEY FROM AFGHANISTAN
No photo because I already finished it and didn’t take a picture. It was lovely. I also have a lifetime supply of culinary herbs from Afghanistan: thyme, basil, parsley etc.
BRANDY FROM ARMENIA
And let’s round off this culinary feast with a glass of Armenian Brandy. This is indeed a first class stimulant with an interesting history. The Yerevan Brandy company is owned and operated by the French company Pernod Ricard, so trust me, this is good hootch for the brandy lover.
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What fun commestibles do you have in your pantry? What weird or interesting foods have been given to you as presents? And if you have an idea what to do with granulated peanuts, please let me know!