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To market: Gewurzhaus

Sharing their German heritage and paying tribute to their Oma, two sisters liven up Melbourne with their spice stories

An edited version appeared in Feast Issue #4, December 2011

Heady aromas draw me in as I approach Gewürzhaus, a European-style spice store that opened on Melbourne’s iconic Lygon Street in June 2010. The closer I get, the stronger the musky medley of aromas becomes: the piquant tanginess of Asia; the citrusy zest of Morocco; the rich earthiness of Europe.

Owned and managed by 28-year-old Eva Konecsny and her 29-year-old sister Maria, Gewürzhaus has an exotic market feel. Large, airtight barrels containing more than 300 spices, sugars and salts from every region of the world line the walls, along with a selection of customised chocolates, cute kitchen aprons and stylish kitchen wares you didn’t know you were missing, but will probably have to have.

“We want our customers to be able to see and smell things,” says Eva of signs inviting customers to lift the lid and have a sniff. I am intrigued by a container of dark red salt crystals labelled Vintage Merlot Salt, and when I lift the lid, I’m amazed by its fresh, fruity nose. “That’s great with white fish,” she says. “Or chocolate!”

The flavour-loving sisters are passionate about sourcing the best quality spices, importing them whole, and not using preservatives or caking agents. “Most spices imported into Australia have been ground and mixed with anti-caking agents long before they hit the shelves,” Maria explains. “They don’t have an expiry date, but they quickly lose their flavour and aroma. We want to maintain their strength, so we’re always grinding; the smell in the store is always changing.”

Eva and Maria immigrated to Australia from their native Germany with their parents as preschoolers, and first learned about cooking and spices baking with their oma [grandmother], who lived in Romania during her young adult life.

“We grew up with baking with Oma and fossicking for wild mushrooms with our Mum,” recalls Maria. “Oma’s cooking was heavily influenced by spices such as paprika for savoury and cinnamon for sweet. We travelled lots, and were encouraged to taste everything!”

Regular visits to Goslar in northern Germany kept the sisters in touch with their heritage, and visiting a dedicated spice house in Munich in 2009 inspired them to import a taste of olde Europe to Melbourne.

“We were absolutely blown away by the smells and selection and creativity we saw in Munich,” says Eva. “With our own store, we wanted to bring our heritage into the store as much as possible,” adds Maria. “In fact, our logo is based on our Opa’s [grandfather’s] handwriting!”

Like Gewürzhaus’ heady smell, the vast array of spices can be a little overwhelming. But Eva and Maria know their stock, and will happily give advice. Customers can bag spices to take home and prepare themselves, or have them milled in the spice grinder that sits atop the store’s antique French apothecary counter. Customers can also choose from more than 100 savoury and sweet blends the sisters have developed themselves.

“We spent six months in the kitchen, cooking and testing and refining the quantities and combinations,” says Maria. “The European dishes came easily, but it took us many, many goes to get some of the Asian blends right.”

Me? I’m roasting a chicken when I get home. “You must take Quatre Epices for the stuffing,” says Eva, “white pepper, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon and’s my favourite at the moment!”

“And mix the Bavarian Roast Chicken Spice with oil and rub it on the skin’” advises Maria. “It’ll bring out the flavour of the meat; it’s divine.” I do, and it is.
The sisters opened a second, slightly larger store in Toorak in April this year, so Melbourne’s south-siders can spice up their palates too. Keep your eyes (and nostrils) peeled for the Gewürzhaus Spice Kitchen, a calendar of spice cooking and appreciation classes, coming soon to the Toorak store. In the meantime, follow your nose to their wonderfully perfumed retail outlets.
342 Lygon Street, Carlton, Vic and 543 Malvern Road, Toorak, Vic