It’s a most compelling store that rivets my attention and holds it until I walk inside and browse. Every time I go in here I come out several hundred pesos poorer, but immeasurably richer in terms of spice wealth and knowledge gleaned.
Spices ‘n Flavours is a new food store that’s tempting and tantalizing Manila’s food lovers. Owned by Carmen Ragas and Claudine Mangasing, the store is a fortune of food finds with a spice selection unparalleled in this country. Fetchingly displayed on ascending shelves are bottles and bottles of dried spices and seasoning blends, both the common and the more unusual: long stemmed dried chilies, galangal leaves, kaffir lime, Greek seasoning, salt-free seasoning blends, 5-spice powder, a trio of peppercorns, assorted marinades, rice vinegars, green peppers in brine, Iranian saffron, the esteemed Herbes de Provence, and that’s just for starters.
“It was actually the Ayalas (owners of Market! Market!) who came up with the idea,” Claudine begins. “They wanted something similar to the Turkish spice markets where everything is outdoors and laid out, but we thought that that presentation might not be so appealing or hygienic to the Pinoy. So when we saw an indoor spice store in Lebanon, we decided to build it upon that concept.”
Spices ‘n Flavours is compact, making good use of its space. The yellow light illuminates the room, highlighting the clean, high lines of the shelves and the meticulousness in which everything is laid out. Everything looks so new and appealing, I feel like buying them all. At the store, the shelves rise high, high up – there’s a sliding ladder used to gain access to the extra stock above, and it’s this ladder that I make sure to climb onto and snap a few vantage photos.
The women tell me about the excitement involved in introducing something so radically new to the Filipino. “This is really a ‘hit and miss’ thing,” Claudine says earnestly. “I’m not sure if people would accept certain spices, for instance long pepper, or even how to use a long pepper or tanglad (lemongrass) shavings. So it’s really a risk.”
“But we’re counting on the Filipino palate evolving, since there are so many restaurants now that serve Middle Eastern or Indian food, dishes you’d want to try making yourself at home,” Carmen adds. Responsible for choosing which spices to bring in, Carmen possesses a gutsy, optimistic attitude: “I thought about what people would like. For the other more unfamiliar spices, I thought ’bahala na,’ (let’s see). We’ll never see if we don’t try.”
The spices are from the Middle East, Thailand, the US, and Europe. There’s a Japanese spice line, cassia bark, organic cinnamon sticks, Japanese coffee, a bottle of whole dried limes (!), a dried oregano plant, and believe it or not, large dried yogurt balls that need to be re-hydrated in hot water before being incorporated into the dish. There’s a section in the middle of the store where local spices are offered in large drums, among them a dazzling array of whole peppercorns and perfectly-shaped star anise. Check out the curvy spice bottles (“…patterned after our body,” Claudine and Carmen joke) and the little spice spoons perfect for digging out the very last dregs from the bottom of the bottle.
Spices ‘n Flavours also has a dedicated organic line which include vanilla beans from Madagascar, crystallized ginger from the States (perfect for my 3 ginger biscotti!), and assorted flavorings and extracts which set my baking heart aflutter.
Carmen and Claudine are particularly proud of their line of leaf teas, some of which purportedly have slimming qualities or are good for one’s voice. Arranged in tall glass jars, this is a far cry from tea bags. There’s also the line of Mr. T sauces from a Thai restaurant in Bangkok packaged in paper boxes. Terrific for stir-frying, these come in variants of sweet and sour, spicy chili, XO sauce, and curry crab stir-fry.
Claudine says, ”We try to offer products that’ll make people’s lives easier. Marinate it in the morning, come back at night and cook it. Finished! The more discriminating can grind the fresh spices that we have, but for those who don’t have too much time, there are instant spice mixes, marinades, and seasonings.”
Spices ‘n Flavours will soon come out with a frozen food line and most of all, an artisanal salt and olive oil line which I’m awaiting with bated breath.
By the way, here’s a popular novelty at the store: cinnamon stick stirrers (P45 each) in white or brown sugar. Aren’t they simply eye-catching? Perfect for my next tea party and great with my morning hot chocolate! I also bought 350 grams of crystallized ginger which I just can’t get enough of.
Spices ‘n Flavours
RR-7 Phase 1 Street Market!
Fort Bonifacio Global City,
Taguig, Metro Manila
728.9562 (new # updated 3/30/09)