“A few years ago, Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks became popular, and people started asking for rose harissa,” she says. “I tracked down the brand he mentioned, and now we import it from the U.K. We buy 50 cases at a time.” In the last decade or so, she realized “that cocktails were becoming huge.” On the third level are all the fixings: orange bitters, chocolate bitters, hibiscus, lavender and oak bitters, Mexican mole bitters, Jamaican jerk bitters, peppermint and yuzu syrups. I’m eyeing some dark cherries in brandy when I meet Anthony Baker, a well-known mixologist who has worked at the Crosby Hotel in New York. “I come here at least once a week,” he says. “I can find absolutely everything, including dried blue lotus slices for a cocktail garnish.”
Everywhere in the store, people are engaged in conversations, often with strangers, shooting the breeze about star anise or fennel pollen, about salt ash for making cheese, or — on the very top floor, where the cookware and cookbooks are kept — admiring the beauty of a Moroccan glazed earthenware tagine. “You can get any kind of utensils at Kalustyan’s,” says Beatrice Tosti di Valminuta, who owns the East Village trattoria Il Posto Accanto with her husband, Julio Pena. She’s right. There are Indian tiffin carriers, ghee pots, woks, a noodle press and falafel molds.
At a time when food and cooking have become perhaps more central to daily life than ever in New York, Kalustyan’s plays a leading role in sustaining the city’s hungry and diverse population. In fact, I have often thought, “Why bother fighting your way through an airport when you can just take the 6 train to Kalustyan’s and taste, smell and shop the whole world?” As Valminuta says, “In terms of spices and much else, you can find anything that exists on the planet there.”