Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Foodie Field Trip- Allspice in Des Moines' East Village

It's not like I don't already have enough spices. Really. You have all seen the entire bookcase of spices, right? Amazingly enough, there are a few I don't have, and there is one place to go to get them. Allspice. Allspice Culinarium in Des Moines. Located in Des Moines' historic and trendy East Village, it's a beacon to me, a nesting place, a place of comfort where I can indulge my deepest desire- to smell, to sample, to browse and most importantly, to possess all spices and herbs. Seriously.

In your run of the mill grocery store I can easily spend an hour standing in front of the spices. I'd guess the average supermarket in this city has maybe 100 or so spice and seasoning options, so just let this sink in for a minute- at Allspice they carry over 350 spices, herbs, oils and balsamic vinegars. Three hundred and fifty. There is no hope for me at this point. Anyone and everyone who knows me KNOWS this will spell my certain doom, sine I am utterly helpless when it comes to trying new spices and new flavors.

In all seriousness, the store was founded in 2010 by Alex and Jennifer Rhoads. The store has become the ultimate buy local success story with a dedicated customer base and a superior product, including full online shopping. It's taken me an unbelievable five years to make it here. I have no excuse really. Just that I lived in Guthrie County and rarely ventured downtown. I'm kicking myself. Let's check out the store.

Just to demonstrate my superior photography skills, you can
see the reflection of my car, and me, taking this picture. Sigh.
Now I made a couple attempted trips to Allspice over the winter months and was discouraged by the parking challenges- limited street parking and mounds of snow everywhere (for which the city is responsible, not the store), but on this sunny warm spring day I lucked out and got a spot right outside the front door. I wasn't planning on shopping, I really wasn't. I was driving home after a visit to Dad's house and had no plans to stop anywhere, but on my cruise through downtown I noticed that empty parking spot....... The warm temps had long melted the mounds of snow and I was able to park just steps from the door. The door was wide open and the lovely fragrance of many mixed spices wafted out to greet me. The store was bustling with several couples browsing, sniffing and sorting through the enormous selection of spices. I stuck to the front half of the store where all the herbs and spices are. The back half of the store holds rows and rows of olive oils, nut oils, vinegars and all sorts of delicious things and will be the focus of my next visit to Allspice so I can nab some goodies to sample. 

What's on my shopping list? Some unusual spices this time. Here is what I'm looking for and a little bit about them.

Ammaza suocera. Translates literally to "kill the mother in law" and is an intensely spicy blend containing garlic, cayenne, and other herbs.

Kaffir lime leaves. Used fresh, frozen and dried, common in Thai and Lao cuisines. Often used in chicken dishes is Vietnamese cuisine. The rest of the fruit is also often used in many Asian cuisines.

Hibiscus powder. Hibiscus blossoms are often used to make teas and this deep purple powder makes a vivid color component in many culinary uses. It's often used to color meringues and other sweets like buttercreams, fondants and sweet beverages. Since I have dried hibiscus flowers on the shelf already that I have not used, don't ask why I think I need this one too- but I do.

Cubeb berries. Also known as Java pepper, these pungent berries are a flavor mix of allspice and black pepper. It's sometimes used to flavor gin.

Amchur. This powdered spice is made from ground dried green mangoes and is a citrusy sweet spice with an aroma like honey. Sometimes the flavor is sweet and tart depending on the fruit. 

Grains of Paradise. Member of the ginger family. Alligator pepper. North African cuisine. Also used to flavor gins. 

Baharat spice. Turkish spice blend of paprika, dried chilies, allspice, cardamom, black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Used to season lamb, fish and other meats. Used in Turkish, Iranian, Israeli, Kurdish cuisines

Shichimi. Japanese Seven Flavor Chili Pepper. Includes chilies, citrus peels, nori, sesame seeds. Used as a seasoning for soups and noodles and other Japanese dishes including rice.

Thai coconut green curry. Lovely Thai spice blend of dried coconut, shallots, green chilies, lime peel, garlic, cilantro, brown sugar and more.

Since I had forgotten my actual paper shopping list I tried to go from memory. I didn't exactly stick to my list. There were a couple on the list I wanted that I could not remember, and I decided to pass on the grains of paradise in favor of a couple others so darn it, looks like I'll have to go back in a few weeks. Somehow ancho chilies, Hawaiian black salt, dried porcini mushrooms, nonpareils, wasabi, tomato powder and red wine vinegar powder snuck into my shopping basket along with the Ammaza Suocera, kaffir lime leaves, baharat spice and hibiscus powder.  Now you need to check back and see what I do with all these amazing new flavors!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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