My Masala Dhaba

For years I have kept my Pakistani spices in a large Tupperware bowl with a red lid. The kind that you use to bring the gargantuan pasta salad (that no one will eat) to a potluck dinner. The lid is sticky with the years that the bowl has held spices and (sometimes) dust. Christmas 2010 I received a proper spice box as a gift. Not a western spice rack, but a genuine masala dhaba (spice box) of stainless steel.

Yesterday, while making a chicken curry, I transferred the spices from the Tupperware to the masala dhaba. It was like someone had told me I had won the lottery. It is beautiful and I can’t stop looking at it.

It is shiny and beautiful, full of the colors of Pakistan – yellow/orange turmeric, red pepper, black pepper, red/orange masala spice, light brown coriander, darker brown garam masala, and to add a Middle Eastern flare – green/brown zahtar.

The spices sit contented in their round stainless steel bowls and a small spice spoon pokes out of the red pepper. The lid is see-through so the colors can be seen even as the spices keep fresh. It is magnificent.

These are the things I love about where I was raised. The simplicity of colorful spices, the feel of a dupatta over my shoulders as I wear a colorful, silk shalwar kameez, the smell of curry cooking, and anticipation of hot naan and samosas to come. I love being able to duplicate these small things even as I look outside and hear the sounds akin to Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz – “Marilyn, You’re not in Pakistan anymore!”

The appetizer: Samosas & chutneys

11 thoughts on “My Masala Dhaba

  1. I paused my vacuum when I got over to the computer – I needed to sit down for a minute anyway. Oh, I am envious – all my years in Pakistan and i never got a masala daba. Let’s eat at an Indian restaurant when we come to Boston. You do make my mouth water with those pictures! Thanks!


    1. Well we will have to change that! We have a Pakistani restaurant that we want to take you to! The masala dabba is just perfect. It totally changes the look of spices.


  2. Like your assortment of aromatic and colorful spices, so is the “spice of life” a part of our very being, from wherever it may come, enabling us to enjoy, appreciate, and love all that has gone into making us who we are! Marilyn, I don’t think you are between worlds; you are wholly integrated into that wonderful human being, absorbing every tiny element from the various cultures that have made you a beautifully unique person. Thanks for being you!


  3. Marilyn, Marilyn what does it matter if you are not in Pakistan anymore.. Pakistan is still within you :)

    or should I say you can take Marilyn out of Pakistan but you sure can’t take Pakistan out of Marilyn

    By the way where is the zeera?


      1. We live in such a global village these days. I use basil, oregano, marjoram, sage, rosemary, thyme and what have you, here in Kuwait. The biggest supermarket chain here, Sultan Centre, manages to get fruits and vegetables from all over the world and it is wonderful seeing and tasting things we have never seen before.
        In India too nowadays it is quite normal to find exotic vegetables and fruits at ones local vegetable seller. Apples like Washington, Granny Smith and Fuji are more easily available than apples like golden delicious and others from Shimla and Kashmir.
        In Kuwait I live surrounded by so many worlds, like I am sure it is in America also as there are people from all over the world and so of course the special flavourings of their culture travel sometimes more than halfway across the world to make them feel at home in foreign climes.
        Food I think is probably the first thing we taste, when we begin to get to know a people or a culture, these days with restaurants everywhere from all over the world, we may not know the people but we sure know their food.
        You ache for Pakistan, strangely I ache for Europe. it is strange how, when we open our hearts, the way our Good Lord intended us to, to people and things foreign to us, how much of the world we can fit into it.
        O Mankind, we created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you in to tribes and nations so that you may know each other
        (Al-Quran, Chapter 49, Verse 13)


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