The Houston Chronicle’s restaurant critic, Alison Cook, has a wonderfully descriptive essay on how the evocative aromas of some dishes bring up memories and associations, and really make a difference in how you experience food. I highly recommend it.
The same idea came to me the other day when my wife, back from a business trip to Bahrain, brought me back a spice from the market there I had never seen before called dar filfil.
These hard dried fruit spikes (they look a little like tiny pine cones) are grated and used as a spicy seasoning, which is why they are sometimes called “long pepper.”
The flavor is similar to black pepper in that it’s sharp and fruity, and it makes your tongue tingle. But there is also something more that comes out in the smell. A friend was over, and we ground one of these little cones into a hillock of powder when we both made the same comment: The smell! Musky, floral, kind of papery. It was so familiar — something from long ago.
We decided it was the smell of a 1970’s shop that sold patchouli oil, Indian bedspreads, sandalwood, incense and — in a little room in the back — head gear.
The taste of this spice is bright and clean — I’m really enjoying it.
Two questions: Has anyone tried dar filfil? And have you recently had a restaurant dish that brought a memory back?