The story of Indian spices is more than 7000 years old, with some of the earliest records of ships bringing Indian spices to Mesopotamia and Egypt. Later, ancient Greek merchants thronged the markets of South India, followed by the Romans.
By 1511, the Portuguese controlled the exceptionally lucrative spice trade, based in Kochi. Black pepper, counted out in individual peppercorns, was as valuable as gold at that time and a sack of pepper was said to be worth a man’s life. In fact, over half of Portugal’s revenue came from Indian pepper and other spices and West African gold.
Kochi is still a major spice capital and it’s easy to see why; spices grow everywhere. We took a boat trip through the backwaters the other day. As we floated through the canals we saw pepper vines, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, coffee, cacao and turmeric growing in the wild. Here’s a shot of our boatman who doubled as a spice guide.
Kochi is home to the International Pepper Exchange, an organisation that deals with the global black pepper trade. The exchange was established in 1997 and is the world’s only international pepper exchange. (It has been compared – perhaps generously – to the New York Stock Exchange.)
We’ve been bitten by the pepper bug on this trip. We were blown away by how any dish can be enhanced by Kampot’s feisty and flavorful peppercorns. We dug a little deeper and are impressed by Kampot’s organic cultivation methods that are hundreds of years old. The mighty peppercorn’s benefits in improving digestion and promoting intestinal health are also well documented. And like Champagne, Kampot pepper benefits from a protected geographical indication to safeguard its special attributes.
We want to learn as much as we can about pepper and there’s no better place than Kochi to do that. We met with a man who is locally known as the “King of Spices” yesterday and learned about freeze drying the famed green Malabar peppercorn. The international spice conference will be held in Goa in a few weeks and we plan to attend. The experience is spicing up our trip and our lives.
We’ll have more to say about spices in later posts. Stay tuned.
We moved to a three-bedroom flat in Ernakulam a week ago. We’re on the top floor of a building overlooking the Kochi naval yards. From our balcony in the morning we watch white breasted sea eagles (wingspan up to 2.2m) rising beside us on updrafts. Big navy ships head out to the Arabian Sea past the Chinese fishing nets and cargo ships unload their containers in the harbor. It’s amazing to watch.
We’ve befriended our host and a bunch of her peers. They’re smart, generous, cosmopolitan, entrepreneurial and fun. They’ve given us a glimpse into the opportunities and lifestyle of this exciting group.
Here are some random shots beginning with treatments for thump sucking and mouth breathing that are available around the corner from our place. Something for everyone here.
Che’s iconic photo has made it to the back of rickshaws. Salamat, is Tagalog for thank you. It also means welcome in Arabic cultures. Not clear why it seems to be written in blood in this case.
Beautiful colors here. These powders are available in the local market. Mix with water and start painting.