I seek herbs when I travel, to see how they’re part of a local culture. The Jean-Talon Market in Montreal was a jackpot.
My favorite store in the historic market was Epices de Cru, a colorful exotic vendor of herbs, tea and spices. The husband and wife owners travel the world to bring home the best ingredients from the “ordinary” to the unusual. Think: Cinnamon leaf or avocado leaf (use like bay leaf with a different accent.) I was so entranced I visited twice. The second time I spent an hour perusing shelves and deciding just what to carry to my Ohio home.
Feeling adventurous I asked for the most unusual product and was introduced to sansho pepper. I can’t decide if the person assisting liked me or hated me when I was allowed to sample the small “peppercorn” which comes from the berry of a deciduous shrub – prickly ash — cultivated in Asia.
It was like my first experience with wasabi. Intense nerve confusion. I wasn’t sure if I was going to live or die. I lived. Obviously.
First, the tip of my tongue numbed. That electrified numbness spread. From cheek to cheek I sensed a citrus – lemon/lime, maybe – coolness. And, my mouth started to water. It wasn’t hot or spicy, but like something had a hold of the nerves in my mouth. It expanded beyond taste to a physical sensation. And, it lasted nearly 10 minutes.
Once I realized that anesthesia was the expected experience and the limit (I wasn’t succumbing to rare nerve poison), I was fascinated. But, why would someone want to add this seasoning to their food?
Rumor has it that it cuts through fatty eel richness and minimizes heat perception in some dishes. I can see why.
I didn’t buy sansho because I wasn’t sure my friends were ready for the challenge. But, you can find it at Spice Trekkers.
The unusual herbs and spices are just part of the utility and charm of Epices de Cru. It’s also educational. I plan to compare rosemary from Provence and India as well as Oregano from Oaxaca, Yucatan and Turkey. I know origin has influence.