My ancestors were East Indians from old Bombay, a small Catholic community whose cultural and culinary traditions were an eclectic blend of Goan, Portuguese, Indian and British influences.
The East Indians were famous for hand making bottle masala, a rich and complex blend of 20 to 30 spices ranging from red chillies to cumin and coriander seeds, turmeric, pepper, sesame, shah jeera, poppy, mustard, saffron, star anise, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom and bay leaves.
Bottle masala was made by the women of the community over the Indian summer, when spices could be dried, hand roasted on clay pots over a wood fire, pounded and then stored in recycled glass beer bottles for use during the year. Each family had its own special blend of bottle masala, and it was a closely guarded secret passed down from mothers to daughters.
Over the last 50 years, it has been a traditional practice for Indians living abroad to 'smuggle' bottle masala home with them so they could cook their traditional curries all over the world. When my Nana visited us in Australia while we were growing up, we always crossed our fingers that she would get our annual supply through customs, where she frequently had it confiscated.
When my Nana died in 2013, she left me all of her hand written cookbooks and those of her mother, Olive Fernandez, and amongst these I found the recipe they based their bottle masala on. Their bottle masala was a phenomenal, fiery, rich and earthy mix of spices that gave a special flavour to their cooking.
Spice Mama's freshly roasted and hand ground Bombay Bottle Masala has been developed according to this age old recipe, and is being freshly produced to order in Perth, Western Australia. It is made with no artificial ingredients, fillers or preservatives, and adds a flavour and depth to home-style Indian cooking.
My Nana and Great Grandmother's bottle masala recipes make it easy to use this natural flavouring to create healthy, low fat curries, tikka's and a range of other tasty meals from fresh, good quality natural produce, and packed with health-giving ingredients like turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, garlic and chilli.
I have tried to package my masalas as traditionally as possible, using brown glass bottles, natural paper bags, and the simplest of packaging to reflect its home made and hand crafted origins.
The best flavours are always natural, and Nana's cooking was always the best.