Israelis ‘spice it up’ at the Oxbow Public Market
At the Oxbow Public Market, Shuli and Ronit Madmone, an Israeli couple, own Whole Spice which markets a wide variety of spices.
Shuli and Ronit Madmone owners of Whole Spice. Photo: George Medovoy
Since we’re too early for check-in at Milliken Creek, we decide to stop at the
Oxbow Public Market in downtown’s Oxbow District, very near the Napa River
This is where we meet Shuli and Ronit Madmone, an Israeli couple
who own Whole Spice, which markets a wide variety of spices.
shop greets customers with over 500 jars of fresh spices, spice blends and herbs
of every conceivable kind – and a welcome note announcing: “Please feel free to
open and smell the spices.”
Some of the store’s most popular items, like
zhug and za’atar, are mixed with olive oil and sampled on fresh
Most Whole Spice products are certified kosher.
shelf, I spot two tajines – a sure sign of a Moroccan connection. The Madmones
greet us this Sunday afternoon with their three young sons and, sure enough,
there is a clear Moroccan connection: Ronit’s parents moved to Israel from
Casablanca in 1956, settling in Netanya.
Shuli’s parents made aliya from
Yemen in 1948 and helped start Moshav Peduyim in the Negev, where Shuli learned
the art of growing and preparing spices at a very young age. Whole Spice clearly
draws heavily on family tradition.
As Ronit recalls, her mother’s
Moroccan spices gave her a “love for food and culture, and that is our
“When I was a young girl,” she writes on her blog, “I
remember how we all looked forward to enjoying some of the most awesome desserts
that my mother used to make… Sometimes she would make simple Moroccan cookies
out of nuts, rose water and sugar that tasted out of this world.”
there’s much more to the Madmones’ spice partnership than meets the
“Shuli introduced me to the basic spices and a lot of medicinal
spices I didn’t know before,” says Ronit, a former art student, “and I think my
part was to bring the art into it.”
“So I just gave up painting,” she
says, “and I started using the spices as art.”
This art manifests itself
in a plethora of blendsfrom Cajun Seasoning and Couscous Mix to Chinese Five
Spice (North China Style) and Pica Pica Black Bean seasoning and many
The Madmones also take customer suggestions for spice blends. “It
keeps going,” says Ronit, “and you never stop creating.”
prides itself on freshness. Shuli explains, “If you come to our warehouse, you
won’t see packed spices. We have an order and we fulfill it on the spot… so it’s
always super fresh.”
“The goal really is to educate home cooks how to use
spices,” he adds, “and to really make… customers understand that you need to
check the quality of the spices the same as you check the quality of fruit every
The Madmones also do a “Cooking with Spices” program at their
Oxbow shop, including demonstrations of Yemenite, Moroccan and Indian cuisines.
One of Shuli’s favorite demos is a Yemenite lentil bean soup, into which he adds
Yemenite hawaj and Moroccan harissa, finishing it with zhug powder.
remember I was in high school,” he says, “in the Mikve Israel school, and we
used to cross the street and go to a gas station where a Yemenite guy used to
sell us soup – a lentil bean soup. It was delicious, so I try to imitate it.”