Or.. "Meeting My Feta on Ninth Avenue"

Editor's note: It's time for another dispatch from Serious Eats community member BaHa, aka Barbara Hanson, who checks in now and again about the various one-of-a-kind food stores and markets in New York. This week, she stops at the International Grocery opposite the backside of the Port Authority Bus Terminal to buy feta, peppers, and spices for her Greek dip, ktipiti.

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Over the past two weeks, most topics of conversation—whether on CNN, NPR, or the IRT—centered around the inauguration. So I thought it would be appropriate to cook a dish paying homage to our new President Barack Obama. But it didn’t prove easy.

Hawaiian? Well, I could’ve grabbed a commemorative can of Spam, known as Hawaiian soul food, and make musubu, but that would only reflect one side of Obama’s background.

Kansan-Kenyan? Not even. Then I thought perhaps politics should be left out of the kitchen altogether—what I would celebrate was the process, the peaceful transfer of power, the foundation of democracy. Which leads, of course, to Greece, where democracy legendarily has its beginnings. The very word "democracy" has Greek origins.

I had every intention of heading to Astoria, New York’s Greek-American heart, last Tuesday. Except then I turned on CNN for a quick update on the inauguration and ten hours later, emerged, only capable of cogent thought on Michelle’s green gloves. Luckily for me, the International Grocery is a delightful Greek specialty store in Manhattan, situated directly opposite the somewhat less than delightful backside of the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

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The International Grocery is the type of store that makes me feel like Manhattan's soul is not yet entirely lost. The store is located on the ground floor of an old brick building; its sign and awning are equally faded, giving it a homey feel. An extremely well-fed tabby cat looked me over as I entered. I was immediately greeted by the counterman, who later told me that the store had been around for thirty-five years. (“How come you don’t visit us before?”)

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Vast bins (many made from plastic feta containers) take up much of the store, filled with lentils, rice, grains, and spices, including imported Ac'cent.

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Octopus is curled up in the cooler.

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There are olives and more olives.

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Homemade spinach pie, baklava, and almond cake cover most of one counter. Even the ceiling is utilized, as branches of Greek oregano hang overhead. And, of course, there are huge blocks of feta, a sample of which is smilingly handed to me before I even think of asking.

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Greece may be more famous for dips and spreads than any other country; taramosalata, skordalia, and tzatziki are probably the most familiar on these less sunny shores.

My dip, however, is ktipiti, which is a lovely, spicy combination of feta, peppers, and olive oil that deserves more attention. Aside from roasting the peppers, it can be prepared in just a few minutes. Perfect for a post-post-inauguration party. Or the Super Bowl. But don’t invite me; I’ve already watched my quota of television for the month.

International Grocery

543 9th Avenue, New York NY 10018 (at 40th Street; map)
212-279-1000

Here's the ktipiti recipe »

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