Spice Up Your Cuisine with Ethnic Ingredients from Queens

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska on March 29, 2013 11:39am | Updated on April 3, 2013 9:25am

QUEENS — Restaurants across the borough are known to offer tastes from around the world, but you don't have to travel thousands of miles to bring those flavors into your kitchen.

New Yorkers who want to dabble in ethnic delicacies will find everything they need in local stores — whether they are preparing Brazilian acaraje or Indian chicken tikka masala.

Ethnic delis and supermarkets in Queens offer an abundance of products from back home, and most are available at low prices. 

Here are some of the best.
 
Indian Spices in Jackson Heights
 
Whether you are looking for amchur powder, a unique and very sour spice made from green mangoes (great with spiced chickpea curry and perfect for dusting on desserts), or achar masala, a blend of spices used to pickle vegetables, a trip to Jackson Heights will provide you with everything you need.

The area around 74th Street and 37th Avenue has a number of Indian stores that offer a variety of South Asian products.

Patel Brothers at 7-27 74th St. is one of the oldest and the most popular such shops in the area, stocked with “more than 5,000 products,” said one of the owners, Harshad Patel.

Each year starting in April, the store offers hard-to-find Indian mangoes. The price varies, but usually a case containing 10 to 12 goes for about $30.

The family-owned business was founded in 1974, and has about 50 locations around the country, including in California and Illinois. Patel Brothers also has a second New York location in Flushing.

“All spices are imported from India,” Patel said. Other products, like soya beans and green raisins, come from countries where they are in season, like Honduras or Thailand, Patel said.

At the Jackson Heights location, customers will find hundreds of spices including turmeric powder, cinnamon sticks and curry powder in both hot and mild form. Among the most popular spices, Patel said, are chili powder, mustard seed, ginger powder and cumin seeds.

The store also offers many varieties of pickled vegetables, including sweet lime pickles and stuffed pepper pickles, which can be served with all types of meat. And it has dry coconut halves, a vast assortment of dried beans and more than a dozen types of basmati rice.
 
Brazilian Spices in Astoria
 
Those who enjoy cooking Brazilian delicacies, whether it's acaraje, which is a deep-fried ball of black-eyed peas, or vatapa, made from bread, shrimp, coconut milk and peanuts, will need dende, a palm oil. For them, “Little Brazil” along 36th Avenue in Astoria is the place to go to.

Rio Market, at 32-15 36th Ave., which has been around for 14 years (including at a previous location on Northern Boulevard), provides a variety of products imported from Brazil and Portugal, from coffee beans to sweet snacks.

Since Brazilian cuisine uses many different sorts of chili peppers, customers will find quite a few shelves filled with all kinds of marinated peppers, from hot to mild, and in a variety of colors, said Josy Dias, a clerk at the store.

Palm oil comes in various sizes and, along with pao de queijo, a cheese bread, is one of the most popular products at Rio Market, Dias said. Customers can also get spices commonly used in Brazilan cuisine, including coriander, cumin, dried chili and allspice.

And the store offers a variety of Brazilian herbal teas, including artichoke tea which is said to improve the body's immune system, as well as Centella Asiatica tea, believed to be beneficial to blood circulation.
 
Arabic Spices in Astoria
 
The stretch of Steinway Street between 25th and 28th Avenues in Astoria, which is sometimes called “Little Egypt,” is full of stores and delis selling products from the Middle East. Most of them offer a variety of items imported by big companies like Baroody or Ziyad Brothers.

Beirut, at 2828 Steinway St., offers customers hundreds of products, including an array of spices essential for Arab cuisine. Piles of dried mint, used in popular dishes like tabouli, and thyme, which is sold in a mix called za’atar, fill many shelves.

Customers will also find cumin, nutmeg, cardamom, turmeric, sumac and allspice. The owner, Mohamed Nasser, says he also offers mixtures of spices ready to use for particular dishes, like mixed falafel spices and herbs used in kibbeh, a popular Arab dish made of ground red meat, minced onions and bulgur.

Among other popular Arab products are labneh (yoghurt without butterfat), tahini paste (those who want to make tahini themselves can buy sesame seeds) or pickled turnips, that can be paired with all types of meat.

The store also sells anise and vanilla, which are used to make sweets.
 
Chinese Spices in Flushing
 
Flushing is full of supermarkets and stores that offer just about everything you can ask for when it comes to Asian food — from live frogs and eels to fruit and sweets.

Whether you are looking for sesame oil sauce and Chinese chili oil for your Sichuan "saliva" chicken, or you are making Gan Guo, a mix of meat, vegetables and tofu, and need Chinese bean sauce and dry chili pepper to spice it up, Gold City Supermarket at 4631 Kissena Blvd. will provide you with all the ingredients.

The store carries thousands of products imported from China, instantly taking customers to the heart of Asia. It also has sections dedicated to specialties from Japan and the Philippines.

Many items have labels in English, so it’s easy to look for products and customers will find dozens of noodle types and rice seasonings in a variety of flavors, from salmon to wasabi.

Shelves are stocked with an assortment of oils and sauces, essential for Asian cooking, including soy and teriyaki sauces, as well as sesame and red pepper oils. The store also carries many Chinese herbs and products used in medicine, like ginseng.

Gold City also has a large butcher and fish market, as well as a separate vegetable section.

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