Cardamom & Cairo, food & memory

This time of year, one of my staples is oven-roasted carrot fries sprinkled with cinnamon, cumin and sea salt.

Reaching for the cumin the other day, I noticed the cardamom jar nearby – mostly full and largely neglected (I tend to forget about it during warmer months).

I love cardamom and thought, "This is the perfect addition to my carrot fries!" It was. And I’ve been sprinkling it atop many other things since – including a dash in my morning coffee.

Why the sprinkling of cardamom with wild abandon (or at least vigorous shakes of a spice jar)? Sure, the unique, intense aroma is part of it.

And after all, cardamom is a Chinese herb that works wonders for transforming “damp” in the body while warming and strengthening digestion.

In Chinese, we call it sha ren 砂仁, or “sand seeds.”

  Photo by Mira Bozhko, Unsplash

Photo by Mira Bozhko, Unsplash

But the real reason behind my cardamom crush has to do with memory. And friendship.

You see, in one of my past lives, I lived in Cairo, Egypt. And one of my dearest friends and I would buy our coffee beans from a tiny, bustling coffee-bean shop in wast al-balad, or downtown. We’d request that our freshly roasted beans be ground with cardamom pods.

Back at our apartment, we’d prepare an intensely dark, intensely thick brew of cardamom-spiked ahwa (coffee) using our kanaka (Turkish coffee pot).

  Photo by Eric Gilkes, Unsplash

Photo by Eric Gilkes, Unsplash

Countless afternoons, we’d sip it out of small glass cups while seated on floor cushions...working...studying...sharing stories and ideas and tears and laughter and friendship.

The walk to and from the shop, the smells and sounds of downtown Cairo, the memories of my friend and life there...are all so far away.

But the scent of cardamom brings them closer. Makes them real again. So this past week, I’ve been feeding myself memories with each sprinkle.


The connection between food and memory is powerful...and can be powerfully healing.

I’d love to hear what foods take you back to far-away, long-ago places...to people and ways of being in the world. Please share your food memories in the comments!


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