Here’s a fact: most Chinese people can’t bear the taste and smell of pumpkin spice, especially Cantonese people, who generally prefer light and simple flavours. I was one of them.
I arrived in Canada in 2017 and my first Canadian Thanksgiving experience came within a month. My friend Sherly brought me a piece of pumpkin pie and asked me to try it.
“It’s a Northern American speciality, an iconic flavour. Smell it before you taste it,” she said.
I doubted her, but still put my nose close to edge of the pie. I took a deep breath; then I felt something strong spray into my nose and hit my head.
What the hell is this!?
This small piece of pie impressed me with its heavy smell and its cold, sleek shape. I took a bite—it was soft and tasted sweet and cheesy. It was good, but the spice flavour made everything gross. Glad that it was only a small piece so I didn’t feel guilty when I threw the rest of it away.
I searched for the ingredients of this mysterious pumpkin spice. I was shocked again when I saw it contained cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and some other unfamiliar spice. And the only expected ingredient, pumpkin, is not even in it.
Ewwwwww, what’s wrong with you? That was my only reaction to this cultural shock.
In Chinese dishes, these spices are supposed to go with something heavily flavoured, like Sichuan hot pot, Chinese BBQ, or beef/lamb stew. Spices should be partnered with something hot, spicy, salty, fried, stir-fried, deep fried! But here in Northern America, putting spice into something sweet, and a cold food? Ice cream and cheesecake? And drinks? And coffee? Even with milk? Unbelievable!
For a long while, I refused to eat or drink anything with pumpkin spice. The only role that pumpkin spice food and beverage has played in my life over these years was to signal that the autumn season is here when I could smell the spice in many stores.
When summer is over and the leaves on the trees start turning red and yellow, pumpkin-coloured hues start spreading on the streets, bringing a warm palette to the neighbourhood on the cooling days. It’s a colour of warmth and care, a tone of a chill lifestyle, and a vibe of festivity.
Summer in BC is always beautiful when you can see the bright sky and ocean every day and everywhere. I try to stay outdoors as much as I can before the crazy long rainy season comes. However, when I saw pumpkin Starbucks beverages available again this September, my brain started craving it out of nowhere.
I ordered my first Pumpkin Spice Iced Latte from Starbucks in Gastown. When the first sip rinsed my tongue, went down my throat and into my chest, the aroma climbed up and settled around my nose. I felt relaxed and calm at that moment.
I started to understand how to appreciate this flavour. It’s not because of how good it tastes, it’s because I am tired of the hustling summer and I can’t wait for the chill days to come for everyone to take a break. Maybe every pumpkin spice lover feels the same way.
I texted my friends back in China and said “I think I fell in love with this pumpkin spice thing.”
Their reactions were: Ewwwwww, what’s wrong with you..? (LOL)