A Touch of Spice

1 12 2009

A Touch of Spice is a delightful Greek movie that revolves around Fanis Iakovides, a professor of Astronomy. The audience is transported back to his childhood in Istanbul, spent amongst the spices in the shop his grandfather owned, and his later somewhat confused childhood years in Athens, after his father, a Greek citizen, was deported from Turkey, following the troubles in Cyprus.

Spice, plays a central role. The young Fanis is told, spice is essential in life as in food – making both tastier. In one scene, Fanis’ grandfather is seen teaching the young Fanis astronomy, and Fanis is told that “astronomy”  is concealed in the word “gastronomy”, going on then to relate the heavenly bodies to common spices: Pepper, like the sun, it warms and burns; Mercury like cayenne is hot; Venus is cinnamon, sweet and bitter – much like a woman; and salt is the earth, as life requires food and food requires salt to flavour it.

Pepper, warm and it burns ... the Sun ... Fanis receives a lesson in astronomy and gastronomy from his grandfather in A Touch of Spice.

Watching the movie does bring me right back to my own childhood … I was never far from the aroma of spices that escaped from my grandmother’s kitchen. It wasn’t hard to distinguish the distinctive smells of the spices that would fill the air: “kayu manis” (cinnamon); “lada hitam” (black pepper); “bunga lawang” (star anise); “jintan putih” (cumin); “bunga cengkih” (cloves); “jintan manis” (aniseed); “ketumbar” (coriander); “buah keras” (candle nuts), were among the spices that were commonly used in our kitchen.

Old Notes on Spices from my mother

Beyond the kitchen, I looked forward to the visits my mother made to Tekka Market and Little India. The market, also referred to as Kandang Krebau Market, then stood at the corner of Serangoon and Sungei Roads, across Serangoon Road from where the market is located now, was where my mother got her supply of mutton for her stews or curries. Entering the market building, we would often make our way past the sundry shops and spice mills, from which we would be greeted by the wonderful aroma of spices that wafted from the shops.

Spice shop in Little India, 1980 (Source: National Archives PICAS, http://picas.nhb.gov.sg)

Sundry and Spice Shop in Little India today.

I was not one who was fond of the wet markets of those days, but Tekka somehow always captured my imagination. The colourful sights within the market building as well that provided by the petty traders who displayed their wares on the streets around made Tekka a fascinating experience for me. One of the sights I would look forward to were the mutton sellers …  a strong smell of fresh mutton would tell us that we were approaching the mutton stalls as we walked through the market. Before long we would see the rows of white and dark red goat carcasses that hung from huge meat hooks, and the mutton sellers, shiny meat cleavers in hand, perched over the huge chopping blocks that must have been cut from fairly large diameter logs – a sight that I always held a fascination for!



9 responses

15 08 2010
A world apart: a leisurely stroll through some of the streets of Little India « The Long and Winding Road

[…] out to Buffalo Road. This took us across to the HDB complex that houses the new Tekka Market. The original Tekka Market was actually located across Serangoon Road from where the current market is, and had when I was a […]

19 08 2010

Jerome, seeing your post on Tekka Market drew me, and brought back memories, especially with Hari Raya, nearing soon. A few days before Hari Raya, my grandmother would go to Tekka to buy meat, chicken and bags full of other ingredients. I guess it brought back bittersweet memories: happy that I enjoyed those times, and a little sad that I’m celebrating away from home.

19 08 2010
The wondering wanderer

Thanks for sharing! I guess you would have very fond memories Sharifah … the old Tekka was a wonderful place where Singapore seemed to come together … I hope you have a meaningful Ramadan wherever you are and best wishes in advance for Hari Raya! 🙂

13 12 2010
Abdul Aziz Ramli

Tekka Market reminds me of my weekly duty during my childhood during my stays at KK Police Station.I will walk to “Rasool Shöp” to buy coconut milk and chicken eggs ……… what a memories…..

13 12 2010
The wondering wanderer

You lived at KK Police Station? When was that? My father lived at the staff quarters of KK Hospital and he tells me that he used to swim in Rochor Canal – around where the bend is at the junction of Kampong Java Road and Bukit Timah Road is …

17 12 2010
Abdul Aziz Ramli

I shifted to KK Police Station in 1968 and transfred toPrimary 6 at Monks Hill Primary School…..

18 12 2010
The wondering wanderer

Ok that would be way after my father’s time in the area … btw he did his primary schooling at Monks Hill as well … just after the war …

19 04 2011
A.Razak Hassan

Hallo ! I was a pupil at Monks Hill Primary School from 1952 til 1958. I was staying at Anthony Rd. not far away. I had many friends from all races and till today I could still remember those good old days whereby 10 cents was a lot of money for a small school boy. I then finished my schooling at Beatty Sec.School and I joined the Royal Malaysian Air Force in 1964. I moved to Germany in 1971 and till today I am living in Munich. Yes, I will never forget my school, my teachers and my friends. Times come and go but the memory remain !!

27 04 2011
The wondering wanderer

Hi Razak! Thanks for dropping by and sharing that! My father went to Monks Hill Primary soon after the war ended! Good that you remember the good old days in Singapore so fondly 🙂 Wow – how did you end up in Munich?

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