Two weeks ago I headed to Whole Foods in search of smoked paprika, an ingredient that should certainly be available at a foodie shopping mecca such as Whole Foods. But—sigh—it wasn’t there. I then began to scour the city for this stuff and after several tries eventually found some at Food Emporium. Food Emporium! You hear that, Whole Foods? You’ve been outdone by Food Emporium! Anyway, I began to wonder: if pimentón is a rare commodity around here, where can a girl get some serious spices in this city?
I discovered the answer on my recent maiden voyage to Kalustyan’s, a small specialty store with a muddled mix of ethnic specialties, including Indian staples like ghee, paneer, and every variety of lentil on earth, as well as Middle Eastern and Mediterranean standards like halvah, tahini, and stuffed grape leaves. Most importantly, Kalustyan’s has almost an entire wall dedicated to paprika varieties, with several smoked varieties available. Take that, Whole Foods!
Despite its ethnic identity crisis, Kalustyan’s seems to do a phenomenal job at running the gamut. Being situated in the heart of Curry Hill, I would expect the Indian grocery haven that I found within, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that their extensive spice collection reached far beyond garam masala and cardamom pods, also dabbling into Jordanian za’atar and Creole spice mixes. I have never, ever, in my life seen such a variety of spices in one place. Spaghetti seasoning side by side with Syrian spice mix. Kibbe spice mix atop fajita seasoning. The sheer number of little baggies in this room was simply glorious.
While it seems from the Yelp reviewsthat everyone else in the world already knew about Kalustyan’s epic
spice collection, I was first drawn to the store after reading this sandwich review months and months ago. On my first visit, I obediently ordered the Mujadara sandwich, a pita packed to the brim with rich, hearty, savory lentils, tahini, and hot sauce, lettuce and tomatoes. Again, a delightful cultural mish mosh. If my sandwich is any indication, it bodes well for the rest of the prepared foods. The dessert display isn’t too shabby either. I selected a piece of mint and walnut baklava, which was precisely what it should be: sweet, flaky, crisp, mind-bogglingly refreshing and buttery at once.
However, prepared foods are certainly not the focus here. The spice collection is grand enough to inspire anyone to want to get in the kitchen and play around. I personally picked up the aforementioned Jordanian za’atar, sprinkled a thick layer of it on top of fluffy pita with olive oil, and toasted the whole thing for a few minutes until crisp. It made a perfect appetizer to my favorite dish, espinacas y garbanzos, sprinkled with plenty of fresh pimentón. (Hmph!) Among
my other spoils were mango chutney, which will be delightful with chicken, a block of paneer cheese for planned future experimentation with saag paneer, Marcona almonds, and “Indian mouth freshener” (the sugar coated spices and seeds you sometimes see at Indian restaurants). Seriously.
For those of you who can’t make it to the store and still want to experience the seasoning euphoria that is Kalustyan’s, check out their website, which will hopefully inspire in you the same awe and fascination that it did in me. And if you are local toNew York, spend a couple of minutes (or hours) exploring the store. I recognize that normal people don’t derive quite so much pleasure out of grocery shopping as I do, but it’s quite a sight to see—and to taste.