Other than a 5-year-old kid, there's no easier person to shop for than a gastronome. Trust me on this. A bottle of olive oil or a jar of spices can elicit the same excitement out of a food lover as an iPad can get from a teenager.
Looking for some ideas to please a food connoisseur? There's no need to go far to discover delicious, unique and locally made products that every wannabe chef on your list will love.
For one-stop shopping, nothing beats the brand-new, the-paint-is-still-drying SoNo Market Place in Norwalk. Billed as "A European Style Indoor Market," there are more than 45 vendors under one roof selling everything from antiques and art to fresh fish and pastries.
If you're looking for a hostess gift or a stocking stuffer or just something special in the under-$20 range, look no farther than these enclaves at the market:
- Olivette, which has a store in Darien and now a kiosk at SoNo Market Place, offers a huge array of fresh-pressed olive oils and infused balsamic vinegars in flavors such as fig, espresso, pomegranate, grapefruit and tangerine. At around $15 a bottle, they make a great hostess gift, or up the ante a little more and go for one of the olive oil sampler sets.
- Plan on making some Christmas morning waffles? For less than $15 a jar, you can scoop up some Bella's Berries Compotes to top them with. The berry version combines cherries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries, and the apricot compote is spiced with citrus and ginger. "You can use it on pancakes, granola or yogurt," explained owner Lisa Sorbo. Or, for a dessert, it can be spooned atop pound cake, tea cakes or cheesecake. (Fun fact: Bella's Berries was chosen as one of "Oprah's Favorite Things" in the November issue of Winfrey's O Magazine, so you know it's got to be good.)
- If you want to spice things up a bit, head over to Yui Market where you'll find Asian spices and teas. "We try to carry products you won't find other places," said owner Thanya Phanpinyo. Here you'll find little tins filled with Thai seasoning, Asian rub, long Thai peppercorns and white peppercorns. For $15, you can pick up a Thai Curry Kit, which includes all of the spices and condiments necessary for making your own authentic meal.
- In keeping with ethnic flavors, the Calcutta Kitchens booth is the place to get jars of Amrit Fresh Makhani Simmer Sauce for $7. Three years ago, Norwalk resident Aditi Goswami launched her business, making sauces and chutneys that are based on family recipes. In that short amount of time, her products have gone from farmers' markets to local markets (The Pantry in Fairfield and Saugatuck Craft Butchery in Westport) to the food mecca, Fairway.
- If you're looking for the perfect stocking stuffer for the health nut, the chocolate-lover or anyone, really, stop at the Nothin' But kiosk and pick up a few of owner Jerri Graham's Premium Snack Bars. In flavors like Chocolate Coconut Almond and Ginger Lemon Cashew, you'll never want a mass-market granola bar again.
While any one of these would make a great gift for a food aficionado, there are options if you're looking to make an even bolder statement of gratitude for the cook in your life. This area is full of creative cooking classes for the beginner all the way to the expert.
Arogya Tea in Westport offers workshops and demonstrations of some of the world's various tea ceremonies.
The Fairfield Cheese Company hosts dinners, tastings and classes throughout the year.
Norwalk's Sugar & Olives offers classes throughout the year, ranging from appetizers to ice cream.
The Barcelona restaurant chain has wine tasting and cooking classes at all of the locations (Fairfield, South Norwalk, Greenwich, New Haven, Stamford and West Hartford).
For the Anglophile, Darien's Rhubarb Kitchen is just the place to learn how to cook for royalty (or least make some authentic fish and chips).
No matter how you slice it, food makes the perfect gift for almost everyone on your list. Notice I said almost. That teenager waiting for an iPad might not be thrilled with a jar of dipping sauce. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Patti Woods is a freelance writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- SoNo Market Place
314 Wilson Ave., South Norwalk
The market place will host its grand opening on Saturday, Dec. 1, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
- Arogya Tea
131 Post Road East, Westport
- Fairfield Cheese Company
2090 Post Road, Fairfield
- Sugar & Olives
21 Lois Street, Norwalk
- Barcelona restaurants
Fairfield, South Norwalk and other locations
- Rhubarb Kitchen
262 Noroton Ave., Darien