>> June 2007 update: Adriana's Caravan is no longer located in New York as the Grand Central Terminal operating board gave her space to a high-profile chain when Rochelle Zabarkes' lease ran out. It is now located in the Ardmore Farmer's Market in Suburban Square, 120 Coulter Avenue, Philadelphia. 800 316-0820
New York City's Grand Central Terminal in New York City is a stunning building; worth seeing alone just for its architecture. It also houses first-rate stores, restaurants, cafes, special events, and a gourmet grocery (The Grand Central Market), making it a great shopping destination, too.
The Grand Central Market is filled with prime meats, crisp, fresh vegetables, bakery, desserts, chocolates, and an abundant spice shop, Adriana's Caravan.
Prior to writing this article, however, I regarded Adriana's Caravan as one of the best, highly-focused, gift counters in the city.
As a basket collector, I've regularly purchased antique reproductions from this shop since it opened in 1999. Each time I've returned, I've found its 20-foot long counter more and more loaded with exotic items, expanding my range of purchases (even when my budget was tight).
What I didn't know is that its owner, Rochelle Zabarkes, (picture 2) is regarded as an authority on spices, being regularly quoted in New York newspapers as well as leading food publications.
The original Adriana's Caravan opened in 1991 on upper Broadway at 75th Street, selling difficult-to-find spices and other recipe ingredients.
Prior to opening that store, Ms. Zabarkes consulted cookbooks from every country in the world, ultimately creating loose-leaf cookbooks that she made available in her shop. Customers not only consulted these recipes, they could take duplicate pages, then wander around the store, filling their baskets with specified ingredients.
The first store thrived until 1994 when the rent was raised to $11,000 per month and it was forced to close. Adriana's Caravan re-opened in 1999 amid the synergy of other gourmet food merchants in the popular Grand Central Market, drawing customers from around the world.
Dinnerware, Baskets, and Gifts
All that said, my primary interest in the store has always been its imported items. These include hand painted dishes, baskets, funky refrigerator magnets, ornaments, tiles, stools, candles. . . Well, the list goes on and on!
You can see in pictures 2 and 3 how beautiful items are nestled among small bottles and jars of spices and oils. The area behind the counter, in fact, looks like a library of condiments.
Most items are imported from countries such as France, Romania, Japan, Turkey, Italy, China, Africa, and Indonesia. The rest comes from
farms and artisans throughout the United States.
For the most part, the collection you see for sale here is unique. Yes, you can find some items at other New York stores, but be prepared to travel around town to buy them.
Cost? Items range from $2 to $300. I recently purchased several critter refrigerator magnets (picture 9), each having a colorful clip on their backs for $15 each; great small gifts. Several one-of-a-kind, hand-blown, art deco vases trimmed with vined metal (not pictured) were available for around $150-$200. Rainbow-beaded treasure baskets from the Philippians are also in that range.
The ornaments sold here need not be associated with any holiday and look great displayed year around. The glass birds (picture 5), for example, would fit perfectly hanging from a large plant or window. The delicate, Italian, hand blown glass fruit (apple and lime) would look great in almost anyone's kitchen. And who doesn't like sophisticated hearts, which can be given on special occasions, or used to decorate tucked-away areas, such as bookshelves?
Surprised to see a box of floral candles in a spice shop? (Picture 6.) Supporting them are brightly-painted footstools with center platforms made from large ceramic tiles (under $100). Looking for something of interest to fill a bowl, or add interest to a coffee table? The glazed raku ornaments and rattles in picture 8 might be just the thing.
Yes, you can find a store full of hand-painted Italian dinnerware at Ceramica in SOHO at
59 Thompson Street, but it's also worth your time to see what Adrian's Caravan has to offer (picture 10), along with a wide-variety of other items. The hand-painted, Turkish serving pieces, for example, are exceptional.
The closest store with the look and feel of tiny Adriana's Caravan is the absolutely fabulous, multi-floored ABC Carpet & Home at 888 Broadway near 19th Street. It is 100 times bigger, however, it doesn't sell any spices.
Spices, Oil & Recipe Fulfillment
For its tiny space, the shop carries over 400 spices as part of almost 2,000 ingredients. Its guarantee is that you'll find "Every Ingredient for Every Recipe You've Ever Read." (Picture 1.) The staff are all trained experts, with Ms. Zabarkes being the authority. It's hard to stump any of them, but if you do, they follow-through with the required research and delivery date.
If you like coarse, flavored salt, for example, this is the place to shop. Four varieties of chunky sugar are also interesting. Do you like to grind your own herbs and spices? Adriana's Caravan has the largest selection of mortar and pestles in the city, one of which is shown in picture 7.
Because the store is comprised of a long counter in front of a wall, many of its offerings are hard to see. A large sign, however, invites customers to venture behind the counter and browse the back wall. Engage the clerks in conversation to find out what's in back. Be bold! Experiment by buying bottles of unusual nut oils as well as vinegars, chilies, and extracts.
Select one of their beautiful, antique reproduction (or cute turkey) baskets and have Adriana's Caravan fill it for your favorite someone (who might just be yourself). Guys, if you are trying to impress a lady, this is the place to do it. No matter who the recipient, the array of items in the basket are guaranteed to be appreciated, with the basket itself being adored.
Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Market
New York, NY 10017
Check for the availability of a store catalog. Also ask about Adriana's Spice Caravan, a book by Rochelle Zabarkes that teaches how to use spices in everyday cooking ($15).
Questions or comments?
1 - Adriana's Caravan carries
"every ingredient for every recipe you've ever read."
2 - Owner, Rochelle Zabarkes,
Your world shopper
3 - Colorful baskets, potpourri, and Asian condiments.
4 - High-quality, dark, baking chocolate,
plus a variety of imported confections.
5 - Glass ornaments for year-around use.
Delicate glass fruit slices imported from Italy.
6 - Ceramic-tile step stools and boxes of flower candles.
7 - Adriana's Caravan has the largest display
of mortars and pestles in the city.
See them displayed by baskets and candles.
8 - Interesting ornaments and rattles
sitting in a beaded basket.
9 - Refrigerator magnets!
The ones I like best have clips attached.
10 - Fine dinnerware from Provence and Turkey.