Mekong Delta Spice Collection
Chef Tu David Phu’s Favorite Vietnamese Spices
This collection pays homage to the Mekong Delta; a river that runs through [Western China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, and last Vietnam] before ending its river’s journey in the South China Sea. And, historically, the Mekong Delta (in Vietnam) was the spice-trade pinnacle of the east, also known as the Silk Road.
Spices are essential to Vietnamese cuisine considering the aforementioned. They accentuate natural flavors of ingredients, giving them new characteristics. This is especially important in Southeast Asian cuisine as many common ingredients are shared amongst neighboring, and bordering nations. And the distinction that determines the Vietnamese palate, is sourcing the right varietal of spices and applying the correct technique. Here are my favorite, single-origin, fair-trade spices that I stock in my Vietnamese pantry. And for your reference see the related recipes below to learn how to cook with my favorite Vietnamese classics.
About Chef Tu David Phu
Top Chef Alumnus, Tu David Phu, is a Vietnamese-American, SF Chronicle Rising Star Chef, and an Emmy-nominated filmmaker from Oakland who cut his culinary teeth in some of the nation’s top restaurants. He has cooked across various cultures, from the American culinary greats to classical European traditions. But it is what he calls “the memory of taste” that pulled him back to his roots: the practices, ingredients, techniques, and flavors of Vietnamese cuisines, and he is passionate about sharing the riches and lessons of his birthright through food.
- Sun Dried Star Anise
- Padang Cassia Cinnamon
- Aegean Fennel Seeds
- Highland Cloves
For over 3,000 years, this stellar—get it?—spice with a pleasingly medicinal, sweet-licorice flavor has been cultivated in Bac Ninh Province, east of Hanoi in North Vietnam, only making its way along the tea route in Europe during the 1500s. Star anise grows on evergreen trees that flourish in the region’s climate of steamy monsoons and cold winters. During the bi-annual harvests, locals climb the trees to retrieve the green fruit (spring yields smaller star anise without seeds while fall’s seed-bearing fruit is larger and more fragrant), which is then sun-dried for one hour a day—usually mid-morning—for five days, just long enough to burst the seam of each “petal,” exposing a flavor-concentrated seed.
In the misty Kerinci Valley of Sumatra, Indonesia, near the city of Padang, cassia cinnamon trees grow in regenerative forest plantations long established in the fertile, volcanic soil deposited by the ancient eruptions of nearby Mount Kerinci. Generations of farmers have been harvesting cassia—fiercer in flavor than its more delicate cousin ceylon—every 10 years by stripping the tree bark on location for maximum freshness. Then, on sleds pulled by buffalo through winding backwoods trails, the fragrant raw material makes its way to our fair-trade-certified organic farm to be sun-dried and ground.
Fennel, a folkloric panacea for all that ails—from asthma to indigestion—is cultivated in the Aegean city of Denizli in southwestern Turkey. During the height-of-summer harvest, fully grown, anise-scented plants are dug from the root, which is sold fresh, while the frilly tops are mechanically separated from the fruits, aka “seeds.” In Aegean regional cooking, the oval-shaped seed—a cumin doppelganger—imparts a delicate licorice flavor into the sautéed greens that fill a popular local pastry called börek.
While some say that cloves were introduced into Sri Lanka by European colonists in the 1500s, the oldest cloves in existence were reportedly discovered at an ancient port on the island dating back to 200 B.C. Our farmer’s clove grove was planted by his grandfather in the Sri Lankan central highlands city of Matale in the early 1970s. As a third-generation farmer, he harvests these sturdy evergreen trees, naturally fertilized by pollen from the surrounding tropical forest, when the clove buds are on the precipice of blooming, signaling optimum flavor and aroma. The harvest—inspected by hand to remove any buds that have sprouted—is then dried in the tropical sun to achieve its woodsy texture and aroma.
How old are these spices?
We purchase what we need every year right after the spices are harvested. These spices are as fresh as you can get. They are not sitting in a warehouse for multiple years. The oldest spices we carry will be one year old compared to the commodity market which warehouses spices for 10+ years before selling them to you.
Are these spices certified organic?
Unfortunately we do not have any certifications at this time but most of our spices are organically grown and all of them are non gmo. Each ingredient can be traced back to its origin. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions.