Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:

New York, NY

Review by SuSu

If you need spices that you can't find in your local supermarket's "foreign foods" shelf, where can you go? Sure, these days you can find garam masala easily enough, and cumin seed is even labelled "jeera" in some of those big spice displays. But beyond that, thank goodness for the Internet and e-commerce.

But Kalustyan's is a real place. They opened nearly at the end of World War II in what is now the "Little Pakistan" area of New York. They sell spices, condiments, herbs, grains, cookware, fruit, nuts, books, and also have a cafeteria upstairs where you can get lunch. Walking in doesn't wrap you in a cloud of spices as you'd expect. The smells are sealed in with the aromatic substances in medium-gauge plastic, rather than in open bins smelling up the air.

The shelves are packed to the ceiling; my dad would normally call a place like this as "The Temple of Doom," after the slave mines of the second Indiana Jones movie. But the packets are well organized (alphabetically), stacked neatly, and the place doesn't show any dust on anything. They sell enormous volumes of stuff, so turnover is good, even for a 1 ounce bag of black halite to crush into granular salt.

In the back are freezers and refrigerators for fresh curry leaf, lemon grass, etc. Which reminds me, they sell more than "just" Indian spices. They also sell "exotic" ingredients from around the world. Everything from blood orange juice to tamarind paste to white truffle oil to Mexican chilis -- their slogan used to be something like, "If we don't have it, it doesn't exist." Foolhardy, perhaps that's why they switched to "A Landmark for Fine Specialty Foods." The change was needed to reflect the expansion of their offerings to include fruit, incense, pastries, etc. Basically, if you have read about it and need it to make the recipe, it's here.

The shop's ambiance is a family business. Women wearing khimaar (scarf-like head coverings) stack the shelves and man the cash registers. People seem to know each other, but I never got the feeling that the place was overly friendly. They weren't hostile -- more like they seemed shy. The store is not as tiny as the photo appears to show, and the business is much bigger than it appears. They have a successful website where you can order what you need. I found it difficult to figure out, since they don't carry pictures of their wares. But a minor quibble.

The Kalustyan's crew are very business-minded. Not only do they run the "deli" upstairs with take-out foods indigenous to all parts of India and beyond, but they own Curry Leaf and Curry in a Hurry, well-regarded restaurants just down the street. They are building a dynasty of sorts, and who can blame them? It benefits everyone who needs to taste, smell, buy, cook with, or learn about the complexity of Indian flavors.

Photographs from www.kalustyans.com

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