Spice Shops I: Arax

I would like to tell you I’ve been away reading all those books from the previous post.  Not so, and I am in bigger trouble because two other books I’ve had requested just came in!  But that’s not what this post is about.

I don’t watch a lot of TV, but this season a friend got me hooked on The Biggest Loser (much to my surprise). I enjoy the show, but am always bewildered when Trainer Bob takes a break from exercise to explain to Amanda why Extra gum will help fight her hunger– and the berry flavor is great! Or when one of the contestants explains to a friend back home that at Subway, she’ll always order the veggie combo, and then list exactly how many calories it has/doesn’t have. Last night, Bob gave Danny and Liz some Lara Bars to snack on, and Liz remarked at length low delicious they were.  The dialogue is so forced, and so surreal, that I always wonder why they do it, because can’t everyone see how blatant the promo spot is?  It makes me doubt the “reality” of the rest of the show, too, but this post isn’t about the reality of reality TV, either– let’s not go there.

So I’ve been thinking about endorsements. The idea is that a trusted friend will make a recommendation to you– of a book, of a product, of a church or a gym or a vacation spot. I love recommendations from friends, and I’m always excited when I have the knowledge to offer one, whether someone asks for a beach read, or a hotel in a place I’ve traveled to. The difference is, your friend’s not paid to tell you to like a certain product, and neither am I. And so I’d like to make some recommendations for you on favorite Boston-local spots, and invite you to leave yours as well!

For some reason I had the idea of starting with my favorite spice shops, and then yesterday I had occasion to visit one: Arax Market in Watertown.

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Arax is an Armenian and Middle Eastern specialty store located at 585 Mt. Auburn Street, Watertown.  They don’t have a website, but should you feel inclined to call them, you can do so at 617.924.3399. This place is all about the atmosphere. When you walk in, you’re flanked on the left by a wall of lanterns and hookahs. (The search for that perfect holiday hookah gift just got easier, didn’t it?)

1110091335Beyond the hookahs are bins of spices, in individual bags of different weights and simply labeled.  The spices reflect the store’s cultural background, so it’s not an exhaustive spice collection, but if you’re looking for a less-common Middle Eastern spice (say, Aleppo pepper?) they’ve probably got it.

1110091336The middle section of the store is packed (precariously packed) with an assortment of produce (unpredictable; not the reason I go there) and imported canned or dried goods.  As in many markets, you want to shop the periphery: the spice wall, the amazing baked goods (mostly sweets), the olive bar, the cheeses, and the loose grains and dried beans. In the freezer section, they also sell their own Manti, little dumplings I once devoted a whole day to making.  OK, bonus picture:

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Circa summer 2008

Arax has been a Watertown family business since 1974, and if you’re over there, it’s worth wandering around that stretch of Mt. Auburn.  Sevan Bakery (another Armenian specialty shop) and Fastachi nuts (great for edible gifts) are within shouting distance, and next to Fastachi there’s a brand-new vegetarian restaurant of some sort.  Watertown’s got a great mix of small restaurants and food shops.

That’s all for tonight.  Today’s post is brought to you by Tim, who got dinner so I didn’t have to cook, because I’ve been working really hard the last few days.  Where’s dinner from?  That’s an endorsement for another day….

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1 Comment

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One response to “Spice Shops I: Arax

  1. Cathryn

    another walk down memory lane… we used to live just round the corner from here… can highly recommend the pastries at Sevan… the Boregs were a staple of our diet… mmmm…. miss the area a great deal…

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