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Cambridge, MA: The Spice Shop We Want Next Door

Stepping into Christina’s Spices, we nearly tripped over a dolly stacked with five-pound bags of black peppercorns destined for East Coast Grill right next door. Now we know where Chris Schlesinger buys the sizzle for the Wood Grilled 1 Pound Cracked Black Pepper Crusted Strip Steak and other scorchers.

Go straight to the gargantuan wooden table in the center of this pumpkin-hued shop and try not to overload your basket. The table is divided into small compartments filled with tempting jars and bags of exotic seasonings. We picked up fragrant deep golden mace, smoked black Mexican salt, and rare Tasmanian pepper. Small placards clue chefs into off-the-beaten path herbs and spices. Tasmanian pepper, for instance, “has almost the same gustative characteristics as Szechuan pepper…both bitter and acidic flavors…” In all there are nearly 250 spices and seasonings, including a superb selection of dried chiles.

Both Christina’s Spices and the popular Christina’s ice cream shop next door are owned by Raymond Ford, a genial Brit who studied at Cambridge in England, then came to Boston to teach social theory at a local college. He threw academia over in 1993, when he bought Christina’s Ice Cream from the original owner. The spice and specialty food shop was a lucky after thought. Most of his trade is to restaurants, so the turnover is fast and spices stay fresh.

Christina’s doesn’t have a website, so you’ll have to visit. Get your sugar fix at the ice cream shop, especially if deeply caramelized Burnt Sugar is on the menu.

Christina’s Homemade Ice Cream, Spice and Specialty Foods, 1255 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139. Telephone: 617/ 492-7021. Fax: 617/576-0922.

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