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Spice Museum in the Tropical Spice Garden Penang

The Spice Museum in Penang is located at Tropical Spice Garden. Actually not many people now realize how important the spice trade was between the European countries back then. The taste of their food was suddenly multiplied  by the hundredth fold with the introduction of spices. Not to mention other usage of spices which slowly found its way in their lifestyles such as their medicinal properties. Thanks to native wisdom that was borrowed from their slaves.

Spice Museum, Tropical Spice Garden
The history and development of of the spice and trade routes through the ages

Spices were worth more than their weight in gold. Countries went into war to control the shipping lanes that transport the spice.

They also wanted to colonize the tropical islands that produced the spices. By obtaining the King's or Queen's Letter of Marquee, any captain can become a privateer -- a legal pirate.

That meant they could use any ruse to get hold of an enemy's ship laden with spice and other tropical goods.

Spice Museum, Tropical Spice GardenA case in point was the war between Holland and England. Bitter battles were fought from Madagascar to the Maluku Islands.

In South East Asia, the Dutch East India Company had bases in Indonesia and at one point also at Pangkor island in the Straits of Malacca.

The British East India company conquered India, the Malay Peninsula and also part of Borneo.

All these places were fertile tropical islands which grew the precious spices.

At Tropical Spice Garden, the museum is located at Lone Crag Villa, an old Chinese Straits Holiday Bungalow which also houses the Spice Cafe and the Gift shop.

There are many interesting exhibits at the museum which tell the story about the spice trade and how some seedlings were brought in to be planted on the island.

When the competition between the colonial masters was very fierce, it was illegal to export spice seedlings away from their native land. The reason was because, some places could grow better specimens than others. So, naturally, they wanted to keep their pot of gold away from the greedy hands of other spice-hungry traders.

Spice Museum in the Tropical Spice Garden Penang

Penang produces clove, nutmeg, gambier. Nutmeg especially is very useful. Every part of the fruit can be turned into other products: nutmeg oil, nutmeg ointment, nutmeg juice, nutmeg powder, nutmeg pickles, the list is practically endless.

Speaking of gambier, at the museum also you can see the paraphernalia used for chewing betel leaves and and betel nuts (or areca) as practiced by the Malay community and also adopted by the Babas and Nyonyas back then.

These artifacts (called Tepak Sirih) were made of brass and at one point were necessary accessories to welcome guests in their homes. The custom of chewing the betel leaves is practically dead, only a handful of older people are still practicing it. Nevertheless, tepak sirih sets are still used as a symbolic gesture in weddings and also engagement ceremonies.

Besides tepak sirih, you can see  massive granite spice grinders and other tools used to process the spices.

Nowadays most of us take spices for granted. We do not realize how much work is needed to change the spices into the curry dish on the plate.

charcoal stoves and metal billy
Old metal billy cans and charcoal stove for brewing coffee or tea.

Or, it is an art form to blend these spices into a typical curry powder or masala.   Probably you do not realize also that the aroma of spices is therapeutic and can be used to treat a lot of maladies.

No doubt the visit to the Spice Museum will be very educational, especially for the people who have never been there.

Spice Museum is a museum that differs in a way that the smell inside it is warm and homely, unlike some other places that house old musty artifacts.

Before you go, you may take a peek of what are available there by viewing these photos at the museum.

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Asia has a long tradition in cultivating and trading spices. The Tropical Spice Garden has a small but nice museum worth a visit, here is a lot more photos of this little museum

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