The house N123 on Lexington in Midtown has some notable history. It was the home of the 21st president of the USA. Chester Arthur took his oath in the office in this house immediately after the death of the 20th president Garfield. Chester is the only president besides Washington to take the oath in New York City.
But New Yorkers know this address not because of the 21st president. Since 1944, the Indian grocery Kalustyan’s has occupied the first floor of 123 Lexington Ave, the same space that was the office of Chester Arthur.
Kerope Kalustyan came to the US in the 1940s to export steel to Turkey but quickly turned to importing food products from the Middle East and India. After Kerope retired his former employee John Bas bought the store. Bas, in turn sold the shop in 1988 to it s current owners, Sayedul Alam and Aziz Osmani from Bangladeshi in 1988. The Bas family now runs Kalustyan Corporation, a New Jersey-based importer. At that time it was a small ethnic shop.
As Americans developed an interest in cooking, and opened up to flavours from around the world the small shop became larger and larger. "Everyone comes here today!" exclaims Osmani, the owner. He said : "People come here from a trip to Mexico and tell us they tried a type of chillie or a sweet and do we have it? If we don't, we use the network of contacts we have built up and we get it, and then try it out in the store"
In this place you can find ingredients for cooking from Armenia, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bulgaria, China, Egypt, England, French, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Holland, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Pakistan, Philippines, Romania, Spain, South-Africa, South-America, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Vietnam, West Indies, Yugoslavia and many other countries .
The spices are arranged alphabetically, along with subcategories. For example, there is cinnamon. But first it's cassia cinnamon from Indonesia, then cinnamon from Vietnam, and what the label says is the most forward-flavored, from China, plus others from Ceylon and India, in stick, bark or powdered form. There are sweet paprikas, smoked paprikas, hot paprikas, Hungarina paprikas....
And it is not only about spices- you can find kosher sugar cubes from Finland and sugar from Bali, Indonesia, tapped from palm flower spikes and kettle boiled over an open hearth. There are about forty kinds of different coffee- beans and grounded , and almost two hundred different teas. You can buy a lot of spices online - but I advice you - visit the shop - the smell is so inviting !