Close your eyes and breathe deep: this is the crossroads of the world, the place where countless cultures come together - at least as far as flavours are concerned.
Stepping into the spice room in the warehouse at Galloway's Specialty Foods in Burnaby is like encountering an exotic perfume: first, the top notes - curry blends and an earthy tarragon; step in a little further, and there's the middle notes - the tang of peppercorns and chilies; finally, base notes float along - the uniqueness of star anise and the comfort of cinnamon.
The scents swirl and mix, with new flavours coming to the fore just long enough to be identified - allspice, garlic, ginger, fennel, basil - before disappearing back into the main bouquet.
In all, there are more than 340 spices, herbs and mixes here, including eight different curries and, as Galloway's website points out, everything from ajwan to zatar. (For the uninitiated, ajwan is popular in India, while zatar is common in the Middle East.)
It's hard to believe that some of these spices were once traded like gold, highly prized and brought across oceans and through treacherous trade routes for royalty.
Today, they're just one section - albeit a large one - in the stock list at one of the Lower Mainland's most successful specialty foods suppliers. It's become a destination for hordes of customers, as well as a major wholesale supplier for dozens of restaurants, hotels and grocery stores.
"It's in the thousands," says owner Annie Muljiani when asked how many customers come to the company's Burnaby and Richmond stores each year. "Thousands. And they come from all over - we have people stop in on their way through from the Interior, on their way to the ferry. They plan in advance to make it part of their trip."
And no surprise: the store has become synonymous with not just unique products, but also plenty of choice - they have 20 wheat flours and 27 wheat-free flours (including teff flour from Ethiopia and channa flour from India), more than a dozen types of rice, and dried beans of every variety.
Not to mention oils, pastas, seeds, nuts, grains, jams, jellies, teas, cookies and crackers - just the tip of the stock iceberg - plus a large selection of natural care products.
Then there's the baking section: row upon row of coloured sprinkles, almond jordans, chocolate (including bars of Callebaut chocolate that require two hands to pick up) and, of course, fruit cake supplies.
Looking at the rows of "glace fruits" - the brightly coloured maraschino cherries and lemon and orange peel - that are used in the traditional cakes, Muljiani laughs.
"We've definitely become known as the place to go for fruit cake for (Christmas) baking," she says.
So much so, in fact, that the store holds an annual fruitcake contest in early December, complete with a guest judge and prizes.
In many ways, it's tradition that has made the store so successful - having recently celebrated 75 years, the store has become part of the fabric of the region's history, she says.
"People tell us they remember coming in with their parents, and the smell (of the spices) - and they just keep coming back," she says.
Galloway's began in 1936 by a man named David Galloway, who had been selling fruit and nuts from a cart in Gastown. That year, he opened his first store on Seymour at Robson in downtown Vancouver. In '49, it moved to Robson and Thurlow. It continued to expand under the ownership of Galloway's daughter and, through the '50s and '60s, became known as the first health food store in the city.
In 1975, two brothers from Uganda bought the company - by then expanded to a second store in New Westminster. Twenty years later, the brothers separated the company into two: one continued with the New Westminster store, while the other - Annie's father, Ali - opted to move the Vancouver store to Richmond.
Though both operations continue under the same name, they're now distinct businesses with separate ownership and different approaches.
It does sometimes cause confusion for customers, but Muljiani says they do their best to direct people to the right location.
"If someone phones and they're looking for (the New Westminster location), we just give them the right phone number and direct them to the right spot, and they do the same for us. We do that for each other," she said.
Business and family have been intermingled for Muljiani her entire life.
"I remember when I was 13, I worked in the spice area (in the Richmond store). I measured out the spices, put them into bags, folded over the tops, attached the label," she recalls.
"I got paid five cents a bag. I was so happy when I hit 100 - that was good money for a 13-year-old," she says with a laugh.
Her mother, she says, can still recall the prices of most of the items they sold, from almonds to pitted dates or curry powders, despite being retired for several years.
In 2003, Muljiani purchased the Richmond business from her father - after working in government for several years - and quickly got to work on her plans to update everything from the inventory tracking system to the product lines.
"Everything had to be computerized, we got everything into one system, UPC coded. It was a big job, but it really modernized it," she says.
In 2010, she realized another goal - opening the Burnaby location. Though Richmond continues to be a successful location, Muljiani wanted another space that was more central to the region for customers coming from further away.
She also moved the warehouse to the Burnaby site, and set up distinct spaces for packing various products.
These days, customers can order through the website and have items shipped to their homes or arrange to have stock pulled, bagged and ready for pickup; classes in cooking or natural body- and home-care products are held regularly in-store. There's also special discount days and a blog and newsletter for customers.
These are just a few of the ways that Muljiani hopes to continue to grow the customer base and keep longtime loyal customers returning.
"It's wonderful now, to sit back and look at how everything has come together," she says of her successes in the last few years. "It's this whole circle that has come around, but there's always something new to look at. It never ends. There's always something to plan. It's great."
For more on Galloway's in Burnaby and Richmond, see http://gallowaysfoods.com.