New Blood
WINE&DINE|April - June 2021
The next-generation is breathing new life into the forgotten art of spice-mixing, peppering the traditional trade with renewed ideas and fresh perspectives.
Fabian Loo

Memories of Mohammad Shah’s childhood come perfumed with spices. Growing up, he found himself playing in rooms filled with sacks of dried goods. “It was a fragrance that I got to know really well,” he says. It was what got the young boy interested in his family’s spice business. Today, Shah is the third-generation owner of Rasool Shop, a sundry store that deals with an extensive amount of spices and varying mixes.

It’s evident that for these three advocates of spices, the perfumed notes of seeds, bark, fruits or roots remind them of family and community.”

But the alluring scent that he grew up with cannot be easily found anymore, especially in today’s age of convenience food. Modern supermarkets and readily available, preblended pastes mean that traditional spice businesses, like Rasool Shop, are fast losing relevance.

Thankfully, a group of next-generation spice makers is determined to safeguard this disappearing trade. And for Shah, that means carrying the torch of his family’s legacy. Come next year, Rasool Shop will celebrate its 60th anniversary. “In a way, the business is like a parent to me.” says the third-generation owner. “I see it as filial piety.”

The history of Rasool Shop dates back to the 1960s when it sold only a few varieties. It has since grown into a spicefilled paradise, with shelves lined with over 100 different varieties, all of which are harvested and shipped from family-owned farms in Tamil Nadu, India.

And over the years, they’ve expanded their repertoire to include various household products; packets of kamarkas (the gum of the palash tree) sit adjacent to boxes of sugar cubes, and cinnamon sticks find their place beside stacks of milk chocolate bars. “Still, it is not enough,” jokes Shah, “Because every other person coming in wants something different.”

Regulars and those in the know typically flock to Rasool Shop for its signature creation: the biryani spice blend that has more uses than its name lets up. It can also be used as a marinade for meats and other dishes. “There are so many permutations that can come out from that one packet,” Shah shares.

More impressive is the recipe behind the mix, along with many others in the store. Other exclusive blends include those made specifically for soups, fish curry, dalcha or lentil curry, and more. Everything follows a time-tested, closely guarded formula that only Shah and his mother are privy to. “This is what gives a personal touch,” he adds. “These are things that you cannot find in supermarkets and other shops. You can only get them here.”

Despite setting up an online store to reach out to a stayhome crowd, Shah still believes that there is merit in making a physical trip down to the store to pick up the spices. “You lose out on the tangibility,” he says. “It makes a difference when you have the aroma. You need to smell the fragrance, pick up the spice, and see the minute details. And that is something that can only be achieved in person.”

Old dog, new tricks

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