Low on exotic spices I head to the small Indian shop down the street. I make my way down the quiet side street, and soon spot the sign. This shop has a small offering of colors, tastes and flavors from the Indian subcontinent. The shop windows are small and from inside them hang colorful garments. Above the entrance doorway hang, what I believe to be, Tibetan prayer flags.
As I enter, from behind the counter, I am greeted by a small and fragile Czech woman. We make eye contact and with mutual smiles say, “dobrý den” (or good day). With little time to spare, I head towards the kitchen supplies. Today I have but a few minutes to quickly grab the spices I need and head back home.
The friendly shop attendant asks if I need any help, I politely decline. As I reach for the first package the woman makes her way towards me. She begins explaining that all the spices are specially imported and that they are all authentic. For every spice pack I pick up she offers an explanation of what the spice is called, the smell, taste, and how to use it.
Though I am pressed for time I am not minding that she has taken it upon herself to offer thorough explanations. Many of the spices or ingredients she is talking about are ones I am familiar with or have already tried, but I let her continue. She is just to adorable to interrupt. As I am standing there listening to her I can’t help but smile. Each explanation is filled with very useful information.
I am taken aback that this older woman is so knowledgeable about such exotic ingredients. Observing her movements, the lines on her face and the hands of a hard working woman, I can tell she is not too young. Guessing to myself I conclude that she must be it in her late 60s to mid 70s. Well past retirement age but still working, and working with such energy and passion. I finally get the courage to interrupt her and say that I have all I need for now. We head back towards the register so she can tally up my total. Thanking her with a smile I make my way to the door. She gives me a warm smile and wishes me a nice day.
Each step I take towards home fills me with enthusiasm and joy, all thanks to the woman I’d just met. That woman is the daughter of two people that saw their country come under Nazi occupation. Perhaps she was a very young child during the second World War. She herself saw the rise and fall of communist control of her country. Most of her life she lived in a country that was closed off to foreigners. Most of her life she only experienced her own Czech culture.
Suddenly it hits me just how special she is. This is a woman whose life was mostly lived in a closed off place, yet she was is knowledgeable about so many exotic products. It is obvious that she is a very open minded person. She could describe tastes and give cooking suggestions for many of the Indian products, which means she is curious and open minded enough to have tried them. I don’t know how she gained all that knowledge but I am thrilled that she choose to share it with me on this day and at this time.
I wish I would have asked her name. But something tells me that I won’t be needing a name to remember her. Days when I encounter ignorant people who just want to spew hatred, I will remember her. I will remember that there is no excuse or place for xenophobia. She welcomed the shop owners, who are people of different skin color, culture, religion and whom eat different foods into her country. She also took the time to share her enthusiasm with yet another foreigner in her land. No, I don’t think I’ll have a hard time remembering her at all.
When I got home I made myself a little snack of beluga lentils. I bought these lentils at the bio/health food shop, so look at your local health food store for them. The following are the ingredients I used.
1 cup of dry black “Beluga” lentils, picked through and rinsed
1/12 cups low sodium, no MSG, vegetable broth
pinch of salt and ground black pepper
2 dried curry leaves
1. Place all ingredients in a pot, bring to a boil. Lower the heat to low and cook for 20-25 minutes, or until lentils are tender. If needed add a little more water or broth and continue cooking until lentils are to desired consistency. Remove curry leaves before serving.
Proof of my clumsiness. On a photography note, even a mess can be made to look pretty:)
Tell me have you ever met a shop attendant who left a very strong impression on you?
Happy Sunday everyone!!
To those of you that voted and helped me choose the top photo, thank you so much. You were a great help and I really appreciate it.
Laura (Tutti Dolci) says
Beautiful photos (I love the curve of the spoons) and what a sweet story – I love meeting people who are filled with passion for their work!
Spicie Foodie says
Thank you Laura:)
That is a beautiful post! The pictures are gorgeous and those spices are just so fragrant.
An Indian woman (a client like me) in an Asian supermarket left a mark on me. We spoke for at least half an hour about food and how certain products can be used. I wish I would have asked her name and phone number as she was a wonderful lady who could have taught me a lot about her country’s cuisine…
Spicie Foodie says
Thank you Rosa! Your story is wonderful. I hope that you will run into her again:)
claudia @whats cookin italian cuisine says
What a great post. Again the photos just draw you into it.. great spices!
Spicie Foodie says
Beautiful story and photos this morning Nancy! The colors of the spices, spoons and wood just really draws me in to the photos and the story of the shop keeper is quite touching.
We really all live in an international world and I think are better off for it;-)
Spicie Foodie says
Thank you Patty:)
Great pictures and such a lovely story. Really wonderful post – thanks so much.
Spicie Foodie says
You photography is beautiful – I saw your photo on food photo sharing site and clicked over to see your blog.
Kelly @ Inspired Edibles says
I must do something with lentils soon… you make them look exquisite.
This post is so uplifting. I have come across people like that in my life…even strangers, who for a second, make what can sometimes be a dark world a whole lot brighter and happier. And you’re right, the bright, beautiful memory of them can fill days to come. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful experience with us. xo
P.S. Stunning photography throughout this post! (As always. :) )
I love this story so much. :-) Yes, I met a woman the other day who escaped from South Africa and is starting over here in Australia. In spite of the hardships she has gone through, she is AMAZING! Full of love and kindness and genuine care for others. Thank you for this beautiful story and your exquisite photos. :-) I just found your blog through Faith at An Edible Mosaic. I’m so glad she sent me your way. :-)
Sawsan (Chef in disguise) says
It is amazing how an encounter that lasts for a few minutes can change your whole day and sometimes your outlook on so many things
I loved reading your story and enjoyed the wonderful pictures as well :)
Thank you for sharing both
thyme (sarah) says
I think I live for moments like you had in that little shop. I can be completely taken in my little shop keepers like that woman and want to know all about their past history. One of the reasons I do love homeschooling is how much I get to open my children’s minds to the hardships that came decades before they were born. How lucky we were to be born AFTER WWI and WWI time periods. In the U.S.A., we are always marveling at the immigrant stories that enter our world. It makes me so frustrated right now to know so many people want to close borders, send certain people “home”, and turn our backs on those who are struggling to find the “American dream” just like our ancestors had the chance to do. Your story in the little shop so far away from where I live just warmed my heart this morning. Thank you!
Vicki Bensinger says
What a nice story. I can only imagine the wealth of information she shared with you. Great photos!
Jen @ Savory Simple says
What a lovely post! Your spice photos are just gorgeous.
You make my favorite spices look stunning!! I love those dried curry leaves. If you have not used them before… fry them in oil when preparing the dish and it will flavor the dish more. :) This post warms my heart. :)
beautiful woman, beautiful story and beautiful pics
Lovely story. I have a few of those experiences myself. The cheese shop in Toulon always had wonderful people to help me pick out what I wanted. Sadly I have a few negative experiences too from people who were less than enthusiastic to have me in their store.
How do they make money if they’re rude to their customers?
Marta@What Should I Eat For Breakfast Today says
What a wonderful post and a story. It is unusual that a Czech person knows so much about indian spices. Thank you for sharing.
Laura @ Family Spice says
What a beautiful story! What an amazing experience for you to live as an expat in such a different country than yours. Thank you for transporting me to a faraway land!
CJ at Food Stories says
Beautiful photos :-)
Victoria of Flavors of the Sun says
Beautiful story, very touching. And gorgeous photos, as always. As always.
Awesome pics… beautifully written post. I would have loved to showcase this post to introduce to my readers a few Indian spices that I use in my kitchen, only if you had named each one of them. Stunning photographs really – making the spices more exotic:)
An absolutely beautiful heartwarming description and oh so lovely photos! Thank you! My birth country, Estonia, suffered the very same fate as the Czech Republic for 50 years: I now receive their chief blog ‘Toidutare’ [Home of Food]: I have been absolutely amazed and thrilled to read the recipes and see the photos – last week was taken up by teaching steaming in Chinese bamboo steamer baskets, the one before dealt with a multiplicity of grains like spelt & quinoa, certainly not ‘native’ to us. The week before had pretty good examples of Thai curries . . . isn’t this interchange warmly wonderful . . .
You tell a beautiful story in both words and pictures! Whenever I go into a spice store or cooking store, I always look for the “older” person because they usually have more real experience and knowledge of the products. Based on your description of this lovely shop attendant, I would bet she cooks from scratch every night when she gets home and has been doing that for years, and learned much of what she knows from her mother. Her kitchen is probably stocked with the same spices that she sells. Being an older Czech female she probably fought constantly to give herself and her family a sense of normalcy within the chaos of her surroundings. What a lovely post to start my day with! Thank you!
Nami | Just One Cookbook says
Nancy, you take pictures of very simple things, yet there are always stories behind. Not just plain photo. :)