Where to shop for authentic ethnic eats
When trying to duplicate the wonderful ethnic dishes available in restaurants across the city, one can easily feel intimidated by all the strange ingredients that are required.Madhur Jaffrey tells you to procure kalunji for an Indian pickled eggplant dish. Marcella Hazan requires you to find dried Porcini mushrooms for Risotto coi funghi secchi, and Penelope Casas says your Alicante paella won’t be palatable without Spanish butifarra sausage. Fortunately, Manhattan is as full of ethnic grocery stores as it is eateries, sometimes offering a delectable combo of the two. Kalustyans
123 Lexington Ave., 212-683-8458, kalustyans.com
While located in Curry Hill, this aromatic wonderland began as a small Armenian spice shop and has evolved to become one of the country’s most comprehensive retailers/wholesalers of international specialty foods, counting NYC’s top chefs among its clientele. Buy spices in small packets — so they’ll stay fresh — such as 4 oz. of black onion seed (kalunji!) for $6.99. A veritable wall-o-dal features every possible legume, from chana dal to French flageolet. The upstairs café serves excellent Middle Eastern goodies, such as the basterma & labney sandwich (Armenian air-dried beef and yoghurty cream cheese). Bangkok Center Grocery
104 Mosco St., 212-732-8916
This small, uninspiring-looking shop’s main virtue is owner Nong Premjit who is full of tips on what to do with that $1.50 bundle of lemon grass, $2.75 piece of galangal or how to soak your rice stick noodles (1 hour in cold water for Pad Thai). Buon Italia
75 Ninth Ave. (in Chelsea Market), 212-633-9090, buonitalia.com
With groceries layered in piles on the floor, Buon Italia looks like a warehouse, albeit a very upscale one. Their philosophy: few labels, but only the best, which means only one brand of dried artisanal pasta, Setaro, or San Marzano canned tomatoes, La Valle. Still, everything you need to follow in Marcella Hazan's footsteps here. Unusual find: a 5 kilo container of Nutella for $69.95. Despaña
408 Broome St., 212-219-5050, despananyc.com
This pristine, well-appointed shop has only been open for 3-1/2 years but has garnered a devoted following due to copious samples of Spanish meats, cheeses and oils, and its pintxos — bite size Basque specialties such as a croquette of Serrano ham and béchamel ($3.50). Pick up a jar of savory, Mojo Verde, a green pepper sauce ($7.95) that’s great spread on a sandwich with Majorero cheese.
224 E. 59th St., 212-838-5453, katagiri.com
Sure, you can pick up your nori wrappers, bento boxes and ten pound bags of sticky rice at any M2M chain, but this 100-year old Japanese grocery store has personality, not to mention fresher-looking rice balls, tempura “lollipops” (2 for $1.10), a tiered display of inscrutable desserts and a huge freezer full of every possible gyoza or shumai, not to mention thin slices of Berkshire pork belly ($11.80/lb), the money cut for noodle soups.
Myers of Keswick
634 Hudson Street 212-691-4194, myersofkeswick.com
Catering to homesick British ex-pats, this sweet 37-year-old shop is filled to the brim with exorbitantly priced packaged goods such as a box of Wheetabix ($8.95), Hob Nobs, Marmite, Ribena and Fairy Liquid. However, the fresh-made-daily meat and veg pies were pronounced “quite good” by my British husband and, at $3.95 for steak & kidney and $3.50 for pork and Wensleydale cheese, “not too dear.” Kam Man Food Products
200 Canal St., 212-571-0330
Do your one-stop shopping on the cheap at this Chinese supermarket, the first on the East Coast. Upstairs are sacks of dried fish and fungus as well as burnished roast duck bits, noodles, snacks and aisles of sauces, such as black rice vinegar, crucial for dumpling dipping (Kam Man’s own potstickers fill a freezer case). Bowls and kitchen implements are downstairs, but it’s smelly; get your Chinese crockery at Pearl River instead.
Find Lebanese brain food in Brooklyn Charlie Sahadi, owner of 100-year-old Mideastern specialty store, Sahadi’s Specialty & Fine Foods, remembers being served za’atar pitas before school because the unique Mideastern spice mixture was believed to “wake up your brain.” Sahadi’s sells one pound bags of Lebanese za’atar for $4.25, which will last “forever” if you freeze it. Za’atar combines dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, sesame and salt plus the brain-waking ingredient, sumac, which gives it its characteristic slightly sour tang. Wake up your sluggish summer brains by preparing simple za’atar pitas as follows: Preheat oven to 350. Using a serrated knife, cut around the edges of two pitas, so you get four rounds. Mix several teaspoons of za’atar with several tablespoons of olive oil until you get something spreadable. Use a spoon to spread the mixture on the rough (inside) pita rounds and put in the oven for ten minutes. Sahadi’s Specialty & Fine Foods 187 Atlantic Ave., 718-624-4550, sahadis.com