Basmati Rice with Saffron, Spinach, and Onions

Known as the world's most expensive spice, Saffron has been used in many ways throughout its long history. From curing melancholia, to perfecting rice dishes in Kashmir, the mystique behind Saffron has led to numerous ways of relating to the spice, and even today it is a common staple of many Asian and European dishes.

Saffron is essentially a collection of stigmas from the flower Crocus Sativus, which are then dried and packaged as a spice. This history of Saffron begins as late as three thousand years ago, and was likely first cultivated around Greece. Crocus Sativus quickly spread, however, and could eventually be found in most parts of the world. Today, 90% of Saffron production takes place in Iran, with surrounding Middle Eastern countries making up much of the remainder. Saffron has a long history in Iran, and it is said that Alexander the Great discovered Saffron during his campaign in Persia, and would use it for therapeutic purposes.

For the early Phoenicians, saffron was said to be able to cure melancholic moods, and they frequently employed it as a dye. The practice spread into East Asia, where Buddhist monks coloured their robes a Saffron-like colour – although, because of the costliness of saffron, the spice turmeric is usually used instead.

Transparency statement: I've never bathed with saffron, I've only eaten it. And I wouldn't recommend mixing the two.

In the Himalayan cultures of Kashmir, Nepal, and Tibet, saffron has long been a valuable element in their cuisine. Recently, I've been reading two books that talk to some degree about Himalayan culture and trade. The first is Trans-Himalayan Caravans by Janet Rizvi, and the second is Heart of the World by Ian Baker. The books both mention the symbolic importance of Saffron in Himalayan culture. The Lo-pchak missions, for instance, which were operating until the Chinese occupation of Tibet in the 1940s, tasked a group of Ladakh merchants with the responsibility of journeying across the Himalayas in order to offer ceremonial gifts to the Dalai Llama. Included in the gifts was generally a large amount of saffron. As they journeyed toward the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, the merchants would often buy and sell other goods, such as incense, turquoise, herbs, and sugar.

Saffron taking a bath

Saffron is an unusual spice, and is usually sold in its original, preserved form, in order to retain its distinct, bitter-sweet aroma. This means when you purchase it, you need to do a little extra preparation in order to bring out the full extent of the spice's powers.

A common method of preparing saffron is to soak it in hot water for 20 minutes to 2 hours, depending on how much time you have and how enthusiastic you are about bringing out the spice's flavour. I soaked my saffron that I bought for probably around half an hour. I would have soaked it longer, but to be honest I was too hungry to wait.

Saffron is used in thousands of different dishes, from cuisines from around the world. Generally, however, Saffron is said to go best with grain-based dishes. So I made a simple rice dish, and threw some saffron on-top for flavour. The taste, a kind of warm, pleasant bitterness, is best when used sparringly. As with most luxuries, you need to restrain your use of saffron, or else you'll break the bank, dull your senses, and develop an unsatiable appetite. Please, avoid becoming the Marquis de Saffron, and consume your spices in mindful moderation.

Here are the two books I mentioned in the article, if you're interested in reading more about the Himalayas. The Rizvi book is very detailed, and gives specific indications about what items were traded, the routes that were taken, and the prominent merchants and families involved. The Baker book deals more spiritual life in Tibet, but is also a good account of the geography of the Himalayas, and is written in a more personal voice. The last book is one I read a long time ago, which is also a personal account of a Westerner's experience of the Himalayas, albiet from a much earlier time period. It's a good read, and the author has some lovely prose describing the Himalayan environment.

Trans-Himalayan Caravans - Janet Rizvi

Heart of the World - Ian Baker

Hermit in the Himalayas - Dr. Paul Brunton

Fiji Natural Artesian Water

Fiji Natural Artesian Water


Fiji Natural Artesian Water Review

A bottle of Fiji is as controversial as it is beautiful. Behind the characteristic square bottle and cool ocean aesthetic, the Fiji corporation is known for its questionable business practices and an arrogant corporate hypocrisy which embodies the idea of marketing over the quality of the product. Fiji water might be a sham, but it's a beautiful sham, which may just make it both the perfect commodity for a social media generation.

Bottled water itself is dubious. Investigations have revealed that most bottled products are not any healthier or pure than what one might extract from the tap. If not for the massive investment currents directed toward the marketing department and those pretty mountain graphics found on the bottles, bottled water would be bust. But the industry is alive and well, with Coca-Cola's Dasani and PepsiCo's Aquafina leading the charge.

Fiji Natural Artesian Water, bottled in Viti Levu by the Lost Angeles-based Fiji company, holds a unique position in the bottled water market. They adopt an environmentally-conscious marketing angle that casts themselves as a hero for the natural ecology of the the islands of Fiji. Fiji water, like Voss, also cranks up the marketing on what is essentially a basic human right in order to elevate it to the level of sophisticated sexiness. Fiji water is “artesian” and is presented in beautiful bottles that wouldn't look out of place in an underwater national geographic issue.

This is classic overcompensation. The product itself is mediocre (blind taste tests have revealed that consumers prefer the taste of tap water), but a pretty packaging makes it instantly desirable. The same pattern exists everywhere in our social media culture where appearances can have more social power than realities – just think of the beautifying snapchat filters or Tai Lopez's rented Lamborghini. Just like how corporations seek to manufacture demand, we seek to manufacture an appearance of success. It's all about seduction, creating a fictional narrative where the creator has full control. In this narrative, Fiji Natural Artesian Water is an attractive, healthy, environmentally friendly drink that can elevate consciousness.

Apparently rats are a significant threat to the bird population in Fiji. One of the cutest birds native to Fiji is the Pink Billed Parrotfinch which looks like a kind of Danish pastry. Unfortunately, this colourful bird is also under threat, since most of the birds in the Polynesian islands evolved without the presence of mammals, and so have no mechanism for protecting their eggs against rats. Similarly, the people of Fiji have no defence mechanism against the major corporate power that is the American Fiji company, which extracts its water from a major aquifer on one of the islands, while much of the rest of the population suffers from improper water treatment and distribution. The Fiji company not only sucks water out of the country, but money out of the economy. And inevitably, the end product of this “environmentally conscious” company is an empty husk of plastic that is tossed aside into a landfill or down-cycled.

Fiji water in all honesty however doesn't taste terrible. Despite claims that tap water is just as good in most municipalities, there is a purity to Fiji water. Fiji water is liquid air – light, buoyant, with icy overtones. Perhaps the bottling and marketing have swayed me, but there is certainly something cool about drinking water that you know comes from all the way out in the South Pacific. Ethically, Fiji water is dubious. But there is definitely a reason why purveyors of style and aesthetic like Yung Lean have, even if only ironically, latched onto the Fiji vibes: Fiji's marketing team has created a beautiful fantasy world where the water is authentically pure, and life is a stream of aesthetic experience, an idyllic dream state that resonates powerfully with the artistic tones of the day. Fiji has, accidentally or not, tapped into something powerful, and it's difficult to blame someone for seizing opportunity.

Nevertheless, there's nothing wrong with just ordinary tap water. In fact, someone should start reviewing tap water in different cities, giving us the whole palate, mouthfeel, and finish of the thing. Fiji water might be good, but I bet there are some delicious tap water experiences just waiting to be had, even here across Canada. Forget the Islands of Fiji, the premier water experiences are waiting just under your nose.

Try the old tap water vs Fiji experiment yourself at home! How's the mouthfeel of Fiji compare to your rusty tap water?

FIJI Natural Artesian Water, 16.9 Ounce Bottle, Pack of 24

Also, heartwarming article from the CBC about how my city's water system contains traces of cocaine. Compete with that, Fiji!

Asiago Cheese


Saputo Asiago Cheese, Aged 2 Months

Moisture 40% Milk Fat 30%


In Northern Italy, the adorable township of Asiago is know for a few things. Some travel there for skiing in the winter, some for the astronomical observatory. But nothing the township is known for can compare in deliciousness to its principle export, asiago cheese.

I like to imagine wide-eyed, determined astrophysicists locked up in the local Asiago Astrophysical Observatory late at night, looking at stars billions of light years away while snacking on a block of crumbly asiago cheese, and getting the cheese all over their keyboards and control boards because it breaks apart everywhere. Or perhaps in winter, people bring a block of the Italian cheese with them while skiing, and it crumbles everywhere in the snow, leaving a trail of asiago behind them.

But here I am, in Canada, snacking on 2-month aged asiago. It's strong, like a mature, older brother to parmesan. Fuck parmesan, go asiago. I spent $10 on this wedge from a Metro grocery store, and I'm enjoying every bite like they cost 50 cents a piece.

The company name on the label is Saputo, which sounds Japanese and would be rendered as サプト in katakana and would probably be run by a man named Saito-san who is a bit too controlling of his children and enjoys fugu meals to celebrate a good quarterly financial report. However, Saputo is a Montreal-based cheese company that was established in 1954 by an Itallian immigrant named Giuseppe Saputo, which makes sense because Japanese and Italian have similar vowel sounds. The label on this fine hunk of cheese says it was imported from the United States, so unfortunately I don't think I'm eating the genuine Italian original. But asiago is asiago, at least until I can find some legit Italian asiago. Maybe I can make the excuse that I want to go skiing in Italy, but with the ulterior motive of aquiring some Italian asiago and hanging out with my Italian astronomical friends.

The taste of asiago will probably make you burst for joy and want to start learning Italian ASAP. Cheese is probably so popular because it's a magical food, and sometimes works like a magical spell would. So blue cheese makes you want to watch some Godard movies and get existential, while asiago makes you want to explode and learn Italian.

The word “nutty” is thrown around a lot, and probably says a lot about the kind of people who like cheese, but asiago definitely has the nut vibes. Mmm I'm eating it right now and it's totally squirel parmesan. I'm eating it raw, but this stuff would go so well on a pasta. Throw this nutcase on some fettuccine and you'll feel like a hardcore renaissance god, ripped like Michelangelo's Statue of David. Now that is a hardcore cheese.

A must for any cheese lover: The Oxford Companion to Cheese!

The Oxford Companion to Cheese

And for those aspiring to cheese mastery, check out:

Mastering Cheese: Lessons for Connoisseurship from a Maître Fromager