NEW YORK – For hard-to-find flavors from faraway continents, professional chefs and home cooks flock to Lexington Avenue in Midtown.
It's here that specialty food market Kalustyan's has stood since 1944, founded by Turkish-Armenian immigrant Kerope Kalustyan.
"It's an institution," co-owner Aziz Osmani said.
Originally from Bangladesh, he and his cousin Sayedul Alam bought the store in 1988.
"We carry over 80 countries' products, so when you see the baskets of consumers, in the same basket you will see from Mexico to India and Casablanca, Europe," Aziz said.
The space has expanded several times over the decades to keep up with demand.
"Every inch of space we utilize here," he said.
One of its many rooms is devoted to chili peppers, from Peruvian ají amarillo to Indian ghost chilis.
"In every category you go to, there are lots of varieties, lots of choices you have, and they're all special," Aziz said.
A wall of salts includes Red Sea salt from Eritrea and pink salt from Australia's Murray River.
Shelves display Irish sea moss and Lebanese rose water, chickpea-flour cookies from Iran and dried apricots from Uzbekistan.
It's the task of manager Dona Abramson to help shoppers navigate the store's 27 aisles, offering product insights and cooking tips.
"Some people say, 'Oh, it's like going to a museum,' which I always interject, 'Yeah, but you can actually buy things and touch them,'" she said.
Some shoppers come to connect with their roots, seeking out the lentils or za'atar their grandmother once used in the kitchen.
Others are professional bartenders finding inspiration among the hundreds of cocktail bitters.
Dona wants all visitors to feel welcome, no matter their background or experience level.
"We are very inclusive," she said.
Both staff and clientele reflect the diversity of the city itself.
"It's a real New York story, I think, Kalustyan's," she said. "The melting pot starts at Kalustyan's."
123 Lexington Ave
New York, NY 10016
for more features.