The New Yorker’s Go-To for Spices and Much More

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In These serials For T, writer Reggie Nadelson revisits New York institutions that have defined cool for decades, from vintage restaurants to eponymous dives.

About 10 years ago, Indian-born actress and food writer Madhur JaffreyManhattan resident needed kudampuli, a small pumpkin-like fruit, for some recipes. Couldn’t find it and left Kalustyan’sAziz Osmani, co-owner of the exceptionally stocked specialty food store and store on Lexington Avenue between East 28th and East 29th Streets, traced a source in India. Kalustyan now carries kudampuli for most of the year. “We don’t like to say no, so we try to get it if there is one, or we create a mix or we buy it from wherever,” Osmani says.

Opened in 1944, the store was originally a small-scale spice dealer owned by Kerope Kalustyan, an Armenian from Turkey. Osmani and his cousin Sayedul Alam bought it in 1988 and expanded it over the years. It currently sells from suppliers in roughly 80 countries, not counting Brooklyn and Queens. And spanning three storefronts (123, 125, and 127 Lexingtons), every inch of the 6,500-square-foot space seems to be filled not only with spice and spice blends, most store-bought seasonings, but also every herb imaginable. and aroma, a wide variety of coffees and teas, countless hot sauces, pickles and much more.

You enter at 123. To the right are checkout counters, mostly women, some of whom can reveal their own kitchen secrets if they join the conversation. On the opposite side are nuts, including Lebanese pine nuts and fabulous oily pistachios from Iran. And beyond that, spices and condiments are lined up like endless rows on the shelves: fresh turmeric from Fiji, holy basil from Ethiopia, black pepper from Ecuador and white pepper from Cameroon, thick bitter-orange jam from the Greek island. Organic ghee and tapenades and homemade mango pickles from Khios, Turkey, Palestine and Israel.

And there is still more. Here is Iranian ice cream flavored with rose water; here’s a habanero hot sauce bottled in Queens and supplied by the store’s operations manager, Dona Abramson, which is sometimes thought of as Kalustyan’s prophecy. Even so, this isn’t a temple of food, but a mind-blowing market of the aromatic, the rare, and even the mundane like Heinz baked beans and Fox’s U-bet chocolate syrup. There are many varieties of rice, their bags and boxes neatly arranged along an entire wall. his manager friend Troy Chatterton Three Lives and Company A Greenwich Village bookstore and serious home cook goes straight to Tilda basmati when she shopped at Kalustyan’s.

Barrels and boxes of dried fruit were placed around the area: large prunes; sweet figs; sliced ​​dried dates and blood oranges; white dried berry that looks like small parts of the human brain. “Try this, it will change your life,” says Abramson, handing me a stout, orange-gold Uzbekistan apricot with a pair of tongs. Sweet and juicy, it conveys the essential nature of the fruit. Kalustyan’s was indeed a kind of lifesaver, not even life-changing during the quarantine when people started cooking as if to keep their sanity. “I needed green cardamom for a curry recipe I was making,” says Sarah Hermalyn, a foodie advertising executive. I knew Kalustyan would take it, and of course they did, and frankly, I had to get some Medjool dates and Sicilian peanuts on the way out.

On my way to the shop, I encounter Alam, who mostly oversees financial and infrastructure issues, while Osmani is in charge of research and development. And the store is truly a family affair: Alam introduces me to his wife, Rubina, who, among other things, runs the boxed tea department and cookbooks.

When Alam arrived in New York in 1968, there were no other Bangladeshis in the city. He had a degree in mechanical engineering from his native Chittagong and would study the same subject at City College of New York. He graduated in the early ’70s, when the job market was not so good, but he saw a gap in the spice market. And so he rented a small space on the corner of East 29th Street and Lexington Avenue – just south of the city’s Murray Hill, home to once-Armenian and then increasingly Indian residents (and now jokingly called). Curry Hill) – started selling spices and sweets.

“I was single and didn’t know much about cooking,” Alam says. “But I did some work for the Bangladeshi consulate, so I met people from other places, especially the Middle East.” Many came to his shop. “We were like the United Nations,” he says. He has since gone on to open a handful of restaurants in the city (located just next door to Kalustyan), including the much-loved Curry in a Hurry, which he has sold out. In 1982, Osmani followed Alam from Bangladesh to New York, and six years later they bought Kalustyan together.

Over time, extra space from additional display cases has become a necessity. Partly because of the fusion cooking fashion, Alam explains, Kalustyan now stocks more than 300 spice blends and single spices. “And peppers and salts, black pepper, paprika, blah, blah, blah,” he says, grinning. “We get chefs, immigrant families, Asian and Middle Eastern customers,” Osmani says. “There are seniors who always want what they love, and younger people who want to try everything new.” Actually, I don’t know anyone in New York who is non-partisan who likes to eat, cook or bake.

Chefs and writers visiting the store consult with Najmul “Nigel” Chaudhury, who has been with the company since 1975 and whose portfolio includes research and development, herbs, salts and seasonings, about the flavors of various fruit powders or dried chili peppers. And then there’s Abramson, who’s invested in food – eating it, cooking it, growing it (he plants tomatoes in his country house in Saugerties) – more deeply than anyone I’ve ever known. Working from a desk at the back of the first floor of the store, he sinks into Kalustyan’s desk like a general in the field. But he’s always on the go, and he’s eager to show you one more thing he’s added since joining the store in 2013.

“Few years ago, Yotam Ottolenghi‘s cookbooks became popular and people started asking for rose harissa,” she says. “I tracked down the brand he was talking about and now we import it from the UK We buy 50 cases at a time.” In the last decade, he noticed that “cocktails have become gigantic”. The third level contains all fixations: orange bitters, chocolate bitters, hibiscus, lavender and oak bitters, Mexican mole bitters, Jamaican jerk bitters, mint and yuzu syrups. When I meet Anthony Baker, a well-known mixologist who worked at the Crosby Hotel in New York, I see some dark cherry in the brandy. “I come here at least once a week,” she says. “I can find absolutely anything, including dried blue lotus slices for a cocktail garnish.”

All over the store, people often engage in conversation with strangers, about star anise or fennel pollen, about the salt ash used to make cheese, blowing the breeze, or – on the top floor, where pots and cookbooks are kept. The beauty of the Moroccan glazed pottery tagine. “You can find all kinds of kitchenware at Kalustyan’s,” says Beatrice Tosti di Valminuta, owner of the East Village trattoria. Il Posto Accanto with her husband Julio Pena. He’s right. There are Indian tiffin carriers, ghee cups, woks, noodle press and falafel molds.

Kalustyan’s plays a leading role in sustaining the city’s hungry and diverse population at a time when food and cooking are becoming more central to everyday life in New York than perhaps ever before. In fact, I often thought: “Why bother fighting your way through the airport when you can take the number 6 train to Kalustyan and taste, smell and shop all over the world?” As Valminuta says, “There you can find everything that exists on the planet, in terms of spices and more.”

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