Sometimes I buy spices, thinking the fragrant, colorful little packets might motivate me to cook something. Unfortunately that rarely happens and the spices get old and sticky and I wind up throwing them away unused. For this reason I rarely shop for spices anymore, even though South Africa — with its cacophonous mix of eastern and western cultures and cuisines — is a great place to do so.
But if I did shop for spices, I would do so at Mallies Spice Works.
I went to Mallies with Marie-Lais to take photos for a column in the Citizen newspaper. I’d heard there was a famous spice factory in Newtown but I never would have found it without Google Maps; Mallies is in an unassuming location, close to the highway and a notorious squatter camp. As we parked outside, I felt suspicious that we were in the right place. But as often happens in Joburg, we walked inside and discovered an alternate universe.
Spices Galore at Mallies
We went to Mallies in the middle of the day on a Tuesday and it was packed with both customers and employees. Everyone shops here: restauranteurs, street vendors, home cooks…anyone who uses spices. Every spice and seasoning imaginable is on offer, along with flours, beans, hair products, textile dyes, herbal remedies, and love potions. Most of the spices sold at Mallies are organically cultivated.
Premul reluctantly allowed us to walk around the huge factory behind the shop, where workers were loading boxes and milling flour and packing mountains of bright red atchar spice into plastic packets. It smelled delicious.
On the way out I spoke to a guy named Shalav, who was sitting on a chair in the retail area surrounded by bags of spices on the floor. Shalav lives in Bela-Bela, a couple of hours from Joburg, but treks into town regularly to buy his spices from Mallies. Shalav is a vegan and quite particular about what he eats.
I’m sure I’ll go back to Mallies sometime, if only to buy pretty spices that I’ll probably never cook.
Mallies Spice Works is at 111 Carr Street, Newtown. Call +27-11-836-9517.