Cheapish Lunch at Kalustyan’s – NYC
Kalustyan’s is one of those special places in New York I love visiting. It’s a treasure trove for any spice imaginable. Need peppercorns? They have black peppercorns from Ecuador, Brazil, Kerala, Lampong, Malabar, Sarawak, and Thalassery (Tellicherry). (They also carry Szechuan pepper, but Chinatown is cheaper.) Besides spices, they also carry a lot of sweets. Usually when I’m in the area, I stop in for some Lebanese halva for my BF. He loves the stuff. But last week, I discovered Kalustyan’s is good for more than just sweets and spices. If you’re looking for quick bite, a tasty sandwich awaits you upstairs.
On the second floor, in the back, behind more rows of spices, there’s a counter manned by a perpetually smiling older gentleman. If you’re not sure of what you want, ask him for a few samples. He’ll gladly oblige. Ask him for a sandwich recommendation, and he’ll tell you to get the Mujadara Sandwich ($4.99), a pita stuffed with a mash of lentils and roasted onions, lettuce, tomatoes, and tahini. Pickled vegetables and assorted olives come on the side as long as you get the sandwich to stay. (There are a few small tables by the counter.) The lentil mash is really great because of the roasted onions. The onion flavor is intense. Not sharp, but rich and earthy throughout. It’s nice as-is, but to make it better, ask for hot sauce. Their version is reminiscent of the fiery hot sauce at Mamoun’s, very peppery and not too vinegary. The spice really brightens up the sandwich nicely.
Of course you can’t leave Kalustyan’s without something sweet. Usually if I don’t get halva, I’ll grab some Turkish delights in the jars near the front of the store. It’s relatively cheap, just a few dollars for a few squares. Last time, however, the Turkish delights at the front counter were calling to me. The label said Turkish Delight w/ Extra Pistachio, and indeed, the large sticky pieces were studded with pistachios aplenty. Unfortunately, the pistachios come at a price. At $19.99 a pound, four pieces were $8.80. Yowser! Expensive, but I think worth it. Besides the massive amount of pistachios, the Turkish delights were chewy, not mushy, and had a lovely spiced flavor. Ginger came to mind at first, but mastic is probably the culprit. Not overly sweet, it’s quite addictive, but again, pricey.
Thank god for the cheap sandwiches upstairs.