Looking for paprika from Hungary or Spain and all you can find is some vaguely red stuff from the supermarket? A recipe from your friend in Sri Lanka calls for medium grated coconut—unsweetened. Good luck with that. Unless you are one of the fortunate who knows about Kalustyans.
Kerope Kalustyan, an Armenian trader from Turkey, came to the United States in the 1940s to sell some steel. The 1940s and 50s just happen to be the golden age of steel production in the US. Oops.
On to Plan B. I admire anyone who can pivot quickly in the face of adversity. As he was sitting in his living room (in a house formerly owned by Chester A. Arthur—a relatively little-known US President) in the heart of a neighborhood then known as Little Armenia, it hit him. His wife could never find sumac for his all-time favorite dish. Light bulb! A spice emporium is born.
Sweet paprika from Spain? Check. Do you want that smoked or plain? Over here is the grated coconut wall—unsweetened on your left. One of my favorite ‘walls of flavor’ consists entirely of hot sauce. There are several with skulls included in the packaging. You can probably find lots of pictures of this particular wall online.
I am also partial to the wall of salt (of course) and its more modest companion wall of pepper.
If you can’t find it at Kalustyans then you probably don’t need it.
Looking for an old school spice shop? Check out my blog post on International Grocery.