Scorpion lollipops from Cardullo's
They've dined you, they've wined you with meals both wonderful and offal. Now it's time to return the favor and give the gift of taste. But as you scout around for that perfect present for the foodie friend, keep one thing in mind. Foodies come in two varieties: those who want to taste the sublime and those who need to create it as well. To illustrate, the former may love that mail-order TURDUCKEN ($129, cajun-shop.com). The latter would prefer the backyard turkey fryer, a few free-range birds, and counter space to go wild.
Shop easy. Plenty of both kinds of gifts abound, often at the same stops. Between spice stores, specialty and ethnic groceries, and the self-proclaimed gourmet outlets, you can find last-minute gifts or put together a menu in the making. Granted, the first of these outlets caters specifically to the would-be chefs among us.
Tickle the tongue
Inman Square's Christina's Spice & Specialty Foods (1255 Cambridge, Street, Cambridge, 617.576.2090), a next-door neighbor to its amazing ice-cream-shop sister, isn't fancy. Most of its spices come in glassine envelopes like the addictive substances they are. But in addition to being a reliable source of hot smoked paprika (or hot, unsmoked, or smoked peppers of a half dozen other varieties), this little storefront is getting into the gift act. PEPPER TOWERS and SALT SAMPLER STACKS ($8.99, five varieties of each) all come tied up with ribbon to allow for some fairly easy tasting. Throw in some truffle oil and you've got the perfect gourmet popcorn pack. Fleur de sel or Hawaiian pink salt? Let your buddies decide.
The goliath of spice mail order, Wisconsin-based Penzey's, opened its Arlington outpost (1293 Mass Ave, Arlington, 781.646.7707) a few years back and still beckons chefs in search of ginger-like galangal or the sweet-sour mahlab (sour-cherry pit). And though it is tempting to look down one's ever-so-sensitive nose at the idea of a Midwestern spice store, Penzey's signature blends make good gifts for those who want to get busy in the kitchen but also want some guidance. Get your foodie friends something they've likely never had, like the ETHNIC MILWAUKEE BOX ($23.49, for four varieties of mixes). The Galena Street mix is particularly nice, a salty-sweet barbecue rub laced with nutmeg. Plus, they pack their gift packages with bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, and whole nutmegs as filler.
Not quite ready for Milwaukee? Hit the Eastern Mediterranean with one of Ana Sortun's new OLEANA SPICE MIXES ($12). A beribboned stack of spices, just enough to play with, may contain a variety of peppers or a collection of Egyptian dukkah, tangy za'ater, Persian spice, baharet, and ras el hannouk. These samplers and other goodies are on offer at the Oleana chef's new bakery-café, Sofra (One Belmont Street, Cambridge, 617.661.3101). Add in a bag of sweet-and-salty hazelnuts ($12) or quince marmalade with orange blossom ($7) to complete the treat.