World's Best Spice Shops
Spice Station; Los Angeles and Montreal
Before opening their spice emporium in 2009, Bronwen Tawse and Peter Bahlawanian traveled the world on a quest to understand the methods of harvesting and drying spices. Their colorful Silver Lake shop—with a clientele that includes L.A. food writer Jonathan Gold—sells more than 400 spices, herbs, blends, salts and sugars, including hard-to-find items like piment d’Espelette, wattleseed and ghost chiles. The spices are ground in-house for free, but whole pods, berries and seeds are also sold to go. spicestationsilverlake.com
La Boîte à Epice; New York City
At his store in Hell’s Kitchen, chef-turned-spice-specialist Lior Lev Sercarz creates blends with lyrical names like Cancale, Isphahan and Apollonia, which he sells to the country’s best chefs. Sercarz’s clients include Eric Ripert, Daniel Boulud and fellow spice expert Ana Sortun. For Ripert, Sercarz made a new take on quatre épices, with less sweetness and a hint of anise; for Sortun, a blend of sumac, rose blossom and sesame. He also creates unusual cookies, such as the smoked cinnamon, brown sugar and white chocolate flavored Canella. laboiteny.com
Levinsky Market; Tel Aviv
This five-block outdoor market in southern Tel Aviv is Lior Lev Sercarz’s go-to destination for spices in Israel. “You know the spices are high quality because locals come here to buy ingredients, not tourists,” he says. “There’s also good turnaround, which means the product is fresh.” In his 20 years in the spice business, there are still some rare ingredients—like sumac berries—that Sercarz still can find only at Levinsky. Beyond spices, market goers shop for dried fruits, coffee, medicinal herbs and prepared foods. Sercarz makes sure to visit Yom Tov Delicatessen for fantastic cheeses and condiments, as well as Ima’s Bourekas for phyllo pastries filled with feta and eggs. Levinsky Street (starting at Haaliya Street), Tel Aviv.
The Spice Market; Kochi, Kerala, India
When in India, chef Vikas Khanna, of New York City’s high-end Indian spot Junoon, visits vendors in the city of Kochi, a major port in the southern Indian state of Kerala. The area is referred to as “Jew Town,” due to the large migration of Jews who settled there throughout history, some arriving as early as 70 AD. “This is the land of spices that Columbus went in search of when he discovered the New World. The spices in this market are internationally renowned and extremely rich in flavor,” says Khanna. One of the chef’s signature dishes, Tellicherry duck breast, is made with fresh-ground black pipali peppercorns from the market. Mattancherry, Kochi, Kerala.
Located in Paris’s hip Marais district, this Middle Eastern shop stocks spices, jams, honey, nuts, confections and candies from all over the world. “It’s like what I think a spice store was maybe 400 or 500 years ago. The owner has a long white beard and this beautiful, great presence,” says NYC-based spice expert Lior Lev Sercarz. Owner Israel Sorski has since passed away, but his shop remains a not-to-be-missed experience for spice lovers. 30 Rue François Miron, 4e, Paris 75004.
Epices Roellinger; France
Epices Roellinger was founded by Lior Lev Sercarz’s mentor, the Breton chef and spice guru Olivier Roellinger. He now has three locations in France: the original shop in Cancale (a small port town in Roellinger’s native Brittany), another in Brittany’s Saint-Malo and one in Paris. “At the Paris shop, if customers ask nicely, the specialists might give them a tour of the basement where they ripen vanilla beans,” says Sercarz. Along with 18 varieties of vanilla, Roellinger stocks 28 types of pepper, eight kinds of fleur de sel, plus spice blends and confections such as chewy salted butter caramels. epices-roellinger.com.
Benito Juárez Market; Oaxaca, Mexico
Inaugurated in 1893, this market covers an entire city block near Oaxaca’s zócalo (main square). Chef Pilar Cabrera of La Olla restaurant in Oaxaca goes to Benito Juárez to buy spices and chiles for her complex moles, including chilhuacle, pasilla Mexicano and ancho. The chef adores visiting Benito Juárez “because it brings back so many memories of going shopping with my grandmother. There is the smell of flowers and spices, the sound of music and people talking.” On the way out, pick up a bag of roasted grasshoppers (chapulines) to snack on. Between calles Las Casas, Cabrera, Aldama and 20 de Noviembre, Oaxaca, Mexico.
Kalustyan’s; New York City
One of the largest spice manufacturing companies in the US, Kalustyan’s ships whole spices from 75 countries to its New Jersey processing plant. More than 500 spice varieties are sold online and at Kalustyan’s sprawling retail shop in Manhattan’s Curry Hill (nicknamed for the area’s abundance of Indian grocers and restaurants). Chef Madhur Jaffrey comes to Kalustyan’s to buy spices and hard-to-find ingredients like kudampuli, a dried fruit rind with a smoky-sour flavor. Whenever Martha Stewart’s in the neighborhood, she likes to grab a bite at the Middle Eastern lunch counter on the second floor. kalustyans.com
Spice Ace; San Francisco
This gourmet spice shop in Lower Pacific Heights encourages customers to sample while they shop. The store carries more than 300 spices from all over the world, including 50 varieties of peppers and chiles, plus powders made from dehydrated fruit. Owners Olivia Dillan and Ben Balzer make custom spice blends and specialty sugars and salts, including spicy buffalo wing seasoning, aromatic coffee-chile meat rub, bourbon-smoked cane sugar and wasabi sea salt. All of the goodies at Spice Ace are packaged in quarter- or half-cup glass jars. spiceace.com
The Spice House; Illinois and Wisconsin
Owner Patty Erd was born into local spice royalty: Her parents founded the original Spice House in Milwaukee in 1957. She and her husband, Tom, have since opened four additional locations where they carry more than 50 spices and 100 blends. Their Chicago Neighborhoods line nods to the city’s ethnic enclaves, as in the Greektown “Billygoat” Seasoning with flake salt, garlic powder, Tellicherry black pepper, onion powder, oregano and powdered lemon peel. thespicehouse.com
Spice Mountain; London
This small operation might not be as well known as the Spice Shop on Portobello Road, but Spice Mountain’s permanent stand at Borough Market (open Thursday through Saturday) sells more than 300 freshly ground spices, herbs and blends. To ensure quality, owners Magali Russie and Matthew Norris grind blends in small batches and source directly from producers whenever possible. Peppercorns come from plantations in Kerala, India; vanilla is from farms in Mauritius, and saffron arrives from Spain and Kashmir. spicemountain.co.uk
Oaktown Spice Shop; Oakland, CA
This charming spice shop was the first of its kind to open in Oakland. Co-owner John Beaver’s first job was at the Spice House in Milwaukee, where he learned to grind and blend spices at a young age. One of Oaktown’s most popular blends, Moroccan Fish Tagine, is composed of 14 spices including paprika, ancho chile, lemon zest and cassia cinnamon; Beaver recommends sprinkling it directly on fish or chicken before roasting. oaktownspiceshop.com
Wu Kuai Shi Dry Ingredients Market; Chengdu, Sichuan, China
This bustling market, located down the road from Chengdu’s main train station, sells a myriad of peppers that find their way into the fiery dishes of Sichuan province. “There are a lot of peppers at the market that you don’t see in the states, like lantern chile,” says F&W Best New Chef 2013 Danny Bowien of Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco and New York. “I went to one stall with 10 different varietals of Sichuan pepper.” The mostly dried peppers are displayed in heaping piles and burlap sacks, along with spices like cumin, cardamom and coriander, an array of pickled chiles and roots and an assortment of teas. Next to Chengdu Train Station, Chengdu, Sichuan.
Herbie's Spices; Sydney
Ian “Herbie” Hemphill, the son of Sydney’s first herb and spice importers, is recognized as the foremost authority on spices in Australia. Hemphill stocks about 130 herbs and spices and 100 spice blends at his store in the Sydney suburb Rozelle. The spice specialist’s Native BBQ spice mix is a local blend composed of coriander seed, akudjura (bush tomato), salt, wattleseed, mountain pepper leaf and lemon myrtle. Hemphill likes to use it as a dry marinade on seafood, chicken, venison and kangaroo. herbies.com.au
Bahadourian; Lyon, France
This Middle Eastern specialty shop in Lyon is frequented by Lior Lev Sercarz, as well as by the celebrated French chef Paul Bocuse. The Armenian-born Djebraïl Bahadourian opened the family-run business in 1929, and spent his life traveling the world in search of exotic spices. Underneath the store lies a network of caves in which the Bahadourian family stores an impressive selection of spices in addition to teas, dried fruit, legumes, nuts, oils and condiments. bahadourian.com
Mellah Spice Souk; Marrakech, Morocco
The spice merchants at this covered souk are charming and less aggressive than the peddlers surrounding the touristy Place Rahba Kdima (also known as Place des Epices). Located at the edge of the Mellah (the old Jewish quarter), this spice souk is where locals come to buy exceptional Moroccan saffron and ras el hanout, an exotic spice blend comprised of more than 30 ingredients. The restaurant at the boutique Marrakech hotel La Maison Arabe uses ginger, cinnamon and saffron sourced from the Mellah to make its famous lamb tagine with preserved tangerines and baby eggplants. In the area of Rue Bahia Bab Mellah, Marrakech.
S.O.S. Chefs 2020; New York City
Squeezed between two apartment buildings in Manhattan’s East Village, this unassuming shop has been supplying the city’s top chefs, including David Chang and Gabrielle Hamilton, with imported spices and rare products for 18 years. Owners Atef Boulaabi and Adam Berkowitz have stocked the pristine shelves with rarities like Liberian bush pepper and white cardamom pods, as well as blends ranging from Ethiopian Berber spice to vadouvan curry. The shop also offers dried mushrooms and truffles, more than 100 varieties of heirloom beans and grains, honey from around the world and distillations of 50 flowers and spices. The shop’s mascot is a cat named Myrrh, after the fragrant resin common in incense. sos-chefs.com
Le Sanctuaire, Santa Monica
Jing Tio, the visionary owner of this kitchen boutique, provides spices to the best restaurants in the country including Per Se, Joël Robuchon’s restaurants and Eleven Madison Park. More than 100 spices and blends are on display at Tio’s museum-like San Francisco showroom, including Indonesian cubeb pepper and the golden-hued swarnadwipa curry mix, made with coconut, lemongrass, kaffir lime, galangal and smoked paprika. Although retail customers can’t purchase spices at Le Sanctuaire’s showroom, Tio’s spice line is available through seesmelltaste.com. le-sanctuaire.com