As travel comes back and all of us begin reconnecting with the world, we would like to start our annual guide with what we believe is the best kind of gift: experiences. If you have a loved one that’s planning to hit the road in 2022, take a look at our culinary walks or trips and consider purchasing a CB gift certificate for them (you can find them here).
Last year, at a time when it was difficult to make connections between travelers and our local heroes, we put together a series of boxes from our cities featuring some of our favorite bites and ingredients. In addition to this year’s recommended products, we have brought a handful of our city boxes back for the 2021 holiday season. We hope that with every purchase we can bring the flavor of these cities into your home and kitchen, as well as support the essential work of our beloved spots and artisans.
The holiday season is littered with gift guides for the “minimalist older brother,” “cat lover,” “plant enthusiast,” “man’s best friend” – you name it. While we can’t guarantee to cover every personality (or species) with our own gift suggestions, we can promise a relatively short list of highly selective, quality products that are affiliate-link free and all recommended by our correspondents, guides and editors. Many of the items are featured in our shop or in stories that we’ve published, and we worked our hardest to connect you directly with producers – while we weren’t always successful, we did manage to avoid Amazon entirely.
Now, without further ado, CB’s 2021 gift guide:
Backstreet Plaka Box
Our Backstreet Plaka Box, like our food tour in this ancient district, uncovers the culinary diamonds in the touristy rough. Among the specialty products included – all made by small producers from across Greece – is a can of Liokarpi, an award-winning olive oil from Crete made using the robustly-flavored Koroneiki variety of olives, oregano and thyme from Tzekos, an organic herb grower in northern Greece’s Chalkidiki region, and sykomaida, a dried fig cake made with a touch of ouzo that’s a traditional specialty of Corfu. Order here.
Meligyris Pine and Thyme Honey from Crete
Meligyris is a family-run business based on the island of Crete. Their honey is collected in the traditional way, ensuring a high-quality, raw honey, with a special GMO-free certification. The coexistence of pine trees and swathes of thyme is a common sight in Greece, and this honey has a very distinct herbal and piney aroma and flavor that sits on the tongue long after tasting.
This type of honey is believed to have been produced on Crete since Minoan times. In Greece, the use of honey is an ancient tradition, and it can be found both in sweet and savory recipes, as well as in tea and natural medicines. Greek yogurt goes hand in hand with such a honey as this one, and is delicious with a sprinkling of walnuts on top. Order here. Carolina Doriti
Valsamo Fleur de Sel from Schinoussa
The tiny Cycladic island of Schinoussa lies just south of the more-famous Naxos. This little island’s rocky seashores create the perfect environment for picking flakes of sea salt straight off the beach. Valsamo’s jar of Fleur de Sel is made of coarse, thick salt flakes that are handpicked from May until late September. It is rich in taste and gives vegetables, meats, salads and sweets a crunchy, umami taste that is unbeatable. Order here. Johanna Dimopoulos
Barrio Box: Gràcia, Born, Sants
When the afternoon hora de vermut comes around, our Barrio Box gives you almost everything you need to partake as if you’re in Barcelona (sadly we can’t ship the vermouth itself – but we include a list of recommended bottles or you can try the DIY kit below!). It features some of the very best bites from the neighborhoods that we visit on our food tours, including artisanal tinned seafood from Entrelatas, a favorite conservas shop in Grácia; Llargueta almonds roasted at Casa Gispert, a food shop in the Born neighborhood that opened in 1851 and has one of Europe’s oldest nut roasters; and heavenly olives in anchovy paste from L’espinaler, a Catalan brand that is synonymous with vermouth culture. Order here.
Method Spirits DIY Vermouth Kit
A glass of straight Catalan vermut (vermouth) is best enjoyed with a simple tapa of olives, chips or seafood conservas. It is one of the most iconic rituals of Barcelona’s neighborhood bodegas, old-school bars dedicated to the selling of wine in bulk. A century-old institution, the bodega is a beloved neighborhood meeting point for Barcelona locals.
Bring the flavors of these bodegas to your home with this vermouth kit. You can make your own dry or sweet house vermut, infusing delicious herbs and spices with wine and liquor. Don’t forget to get some olives and enjoy a very personal “hora del vermut,” with the joy of knowing where it was all made. Order here. Paula Mourenza.
Usta All-Stars Cards
Istanbul’s street food vendors are an integral part of city life. You could mark the seasons and even the time of day with your eyes closed, just listening for their call. In Istanbul, that’s a key ingredient in street food: the ability to remain nomadic and on a roll. In recent years, the municipality has cracked down on these vendors, subjecting them to fines or even confiscating their carts. This pack of cards is part of Culinary Backstreets’ efforts to provide roving food vendors with greater recognition and keep them where they belong – on the street. Each card profiles a classic Istanbul street vendor, giving a taste of their life story and their vital “stats.” It’s an all-star lineup that we’d go to bat for any day. All proceeds are being donated to our “Usta Fund” that helps street vendors in need. Order here.
Selamlique Damla Sakızlı Turkish Coffee
In a country with almost 500-years behind its coffee tradition, it’s hard to go wrong with most brands, but flavored Turkish coffee always deserves to be approached with some caution. The range of spiced roasts by Selamlique (the selamlık was the part of an old Ottoman house reserved for men, presumably for them to hang about and drink cups and cups of Turkish coffee) however, are all rich, smooth and far from artificial. The damla sakızı, or mastic, variety is above and beyond most any other brand. Roasted at 180 Celsius for 20 minutes, the beans are cooled for half a day before being ground into a fine, velvety powder, and the mastic provides an earthy, sweet finish removing any need to add sugar. Order here. Tas Anjarwalla
Eyüp Sabri Tuncer Kolonya sanitizer
Where the United States may have seen a run on hand sanitizers and rubbing alcohol at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Turks made a bee-line for their local kolonyacı (seller of perfumed sanitizer). While not strictly a culinary item, kolonya is an essential part of the Turkish dining experience – any traditional restaurant worth its salt will offer a sprinkle of the fragrant cologne, a symbol of Turkish hospitality, once money passes hands. Kolonya is at least 60% alcohol and comes in scents like jasmine, fig, olive blossom and the OG, lemon. Eyüp Sabri Tuncer is one of the oldest kolonya sellers, and its beautiful packaging reflects the delightful aromas inside. The tiny bottles and wipes in particular make for great stocking stuffers. Order here. Tas Anjarwalla
Sem Rival Ginja
Drinking ginjinha, or ginja, is a vintage Lisbon tradition. The ginja liqueur, named for its base fruit of sour cherry, is made with brown sugar, wine, brandy and spices. The result is a smooth drink enjoyed both as an aperitif and digestive, always in a small glass, thus the diminutive ”ginjinha.” There are numerous places that serve the liquer in Lisbon, but one of them is unrivaled. That is precisely the meaning of “Sem Rival,” a tiny bar in the city center founded by João Lourenço Cima in 1890. His secret recipe has survived to this day, and if you can’t have it there, next to theaters of Coliseu, it will certainly survive any long trip inside this beautiful antique bottle. Order here. Tiago Pais
Even the quickest of visits to Lisbon would tell you that bacalhau (salt cod) is close to the hearts of the Portuguese. Though this hank of dried fish may look intimidating, it’s actually relatively easy to cook. Just make sure you soak it to extract the excess salt. You can break bacalhau down for cod cakes, or poach it in the oven with generous amounts of olive oil, garlic and cilantro. Turn on some fado tunes by Ana Moura and pop open a bottle of Portuguese red wine from Douro or Dão, and you’ll have a bit of the Portuguese life at your table. Order here. Célia Pedroso
Backstreet Marseille Box
Marseille is influenced as much by France as it is by its location on the Mediterranean – the vibrant port has welcomed goods, immigrants and ideas since 600 B.C., resulting in a rich culinary heritage. Our Backstreet Marseille Box, like our culinary walk, speaks to this legacy through items like another favorite harissa, Le Phare du Cap Bon, a piquant red pepper paste that has been made since 1945 on the tip of Tunisia, and a bag of freshly baked canistrelli, a Corsican treat that originated in Genoa (these square cookies have become a Marseille tradition thanks to the prominent Corsican community). Order here.
Tava Hada Pilpeta harissa
Due to Marseille’s vast Maghrebi community (hence our nickname the “Sahara of the Sea”), harissa is one of the city’s most-consumed condiments. Our new favorite, Tava Hada Pilpeta, is made in the heart of Marseille. Rather than bombard your tastebuds with mouth-scorching spice, this homegrown harissa is just the right balance of heat and flavor. A gastronomic harissa that merits a “grand cru” status, this piquant red pepper paste adds pep to just about anything – couscous, soups, sandwiches, eggs, you name it. Sure to please any spice lovers in your life, Tava Hada Pilpeta also makes tapenade, preserved lemon dip and cashews – all kicked up with harissa. Just in time for the holidays, they now can all be shipped to the US. Order here. Alexis Steinman
Backstreet Mexico City Box
Filled with products from the people who are part of our Mexico City tours and trips, our Backstreet Mexico City Box showcases the many layers of this incredibly diverse metropolis. Like the Almendrado mole from the family-run Moles México in Milpa Alta, a village-like area on the southern edge of Mexico City (while in town we also found a source for heirloom beans that are rarely seen outside of Milpa Alta’s markets). And the cacao treats from the family-run Chocolatería Macondo, located near the site of the 2,000-year-old Teotihuacan pyramids, including a cacao-rich bar for baking or nibbling on and a package of powdered chocolate to make hot or cold drinks. Order here.
This traditional kitchen tool, the molcajete (mortar), truly marks the “before” and “after” of the ancient civilizations of Mesoamérica. Likely the first of its kind were made of clay, though the inspiration for stone perhaps can be seen in the pre-historic metates (mealing stone) of the cavemen murals from San Francisco, Baja California. Nowadays, the molcajete is an essential piece of the Mexican kitchen, mostly passed from generation to generation among families. They are said to preserve the sazón (seasoning) secrets of family recipes, as the piedra negra stone adds its own flavors over time. In this stone mortar, you can grind, crush or smash any kind of food. Make one a part of your own, or someone else’s, cooking legend. Order here. Paco de Santiago
Backstreet Naples Box
The chances are good that you’ve had a Pizza Margherita delivered to your home in the last few months, but our Backstreet Naples Box shows that there’s much more to Naples and the surrounding Campania region than pizza. Like freshly roasted and ground coffee from Caffè Mexico, one of the many beloved bars around town where the ritual of drinking coffee is performed several times a day. And a bottle of artisanal colatura di alici – a direct descendant of garum, the ancient fish sauce of the Romans – made with anchovies caught by the fishermen of Cetara on the Amalfi coast. Order here.
Pasquale the “Number Man’s” Calendar
We love the hand-made signs made by our good friend in Naples Pasquale the “Number Man.” But what could be better than having a little piece of Pasquale’s hand-drawn work for every day of the year? That’s the idea behind the calendar our Naples correspondent and walks guide, Amedeo Colella, commissioned Pasquale to make for us. Using his signature style, Naples’s last hand-drawn sign maker has created a limited-edition calendar that will not only help you keep track of every day, but — thanks to its original style — also offer something to remember that day by. Order here. Culinary Backstreets
A Neapolitan Pizza Maker’s “Oil Can”
Naples is, of course, the city where pizza was born – the art of Neapolitan pizza making has actually been protected by UNESCO since 2018. To practice their art, local pizzaiolos have long used copper cruets to store the extra virgin oil they need for their work. With a thick handle and an extended spout, these oil jugs – which hold half a liter – give just the right amount of control to finish a pizza with a fine drizzle of fragrant oil. The vessel also protects the oil from direct exposure to light and from having its taste altered in any way. The sturdy yet elegant jugs are hand-made in the workshop of an artisanal manufacturer located in Sant’Anastasia, a town near Naples famed for its copper work. Order here. Amedeo Colella
While we would rather get our chapulines straight from the source, at Doña Chencha’s stand in Oaxaca’s Central de Abastos market, popping down to Mexico for the delightfully crunchy edible grasshoppers is not so easy for most. Fortunately, there’s a good backup plan: the products sold by the New York-based Merci Mercado, which has an online shop selling a whole range of grasshopper products, from those flavored with chipotle (a perfect accompaniment to a shot of mezcal) to salt blended with ground chapulines (a superb way to rim margarita glasses). Attractively packaged, we expect these items to be, well, flying off the shelves. Order here. Culinary Backstreets
Pinhais Spiced Sardines
Canning fish is not as simple as it may appear. Since the 1920s, Pinhais has kept up the traditional method of canning sardines in the city of Matosinhos of Porto district. They cook the sardines before canning them, being sure to use only the freshest fish from the nearby Atlantic. We like to prepare a scrumptious starter with this brand of sardines: a slice of cornbread, a sliver of the tinned fish (strained of the canning olive oil), oregano and chopped tomatoes. Don’t forget to pair it with an effervescent bottle of vinho verde. Order here. Célia Pedroso
United Kitchens of Queens Box
With our United Kitchens of Queens Box, the culinary mix of the world’s borough – the area that encompasses the Queens neighborhoods of Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights is one of the most diverse places on the face of the planet – can now become part of your own kitchen. The items included range from savory, like a bottle of Suka Pinakurat, a vinegary dipping sauce and marinade made out of fermented coconut nectar from the Philippines, to sweet, like a package of exquisite Colombian guava paste. Order here.
On a brisk evening earlier this year, while I was doing “research” for my story on Chalupas Poblanas El Tlecuile, the younger brother of this street chef insisted that I try their café de olla, too. This Mexican coffee “tastes much better” from an earthenware mug than from a paper to-go cup, he asserted – and after trying both, I’d have to agree. For that matter, I’m confident that a mug would also improve the experience of drinking tea, mulled wine, hot chocolate and the like. If you’re out walking in Corona and Jackson Heights, many small shops and street vendors sell these hand-decorated, one-of-a-kind mugs. Paqueteria Carmelita in Corona has a variety of handcrafts, dresses and hats from Mexico, including rustic and elegant sets of these earthenware mugs. This one is worth the in-person trip: 4109 National St., Corona. Dave Cook
Purple Dough Doughnuts
This Filipino-American bakery’s name is inspired by the ube, a purple yam, which makes an appearance in many of its sweet goods, from bubble tea to flan to cannoli to their pièce de résistance, the doughnut. Plump, cakey and oh-so-delicious, I have found that just walking in I run the risk of finding my favorite items to be sold out. But you can pre-order for pick up, delivery or shipping anywhere in the U.S. The variety of doughnut flavors is like no other: calamansi (Philippine lemon), coconut pandan, mango, jackfruit, ube, etc. There are also vegan and gluten-free options. Order here. Esneider Arevalo
Fly By Jing’s Dumplings
We’ve been huge fans of Fly By Jing’s dumplings since Jing first started bao‘ing them at supperclubs in Shanghai back in 2017, especially when slathered in one of her trademark sauces. And we were thrilled for all of our friends and families back home when the online shop started making frozen dumplings to ship throughout the US – especially when that includes Shanghai’s famous xiaolongbao, a soup dumpling that is notoriously hard to do a frozen version of! Whether you’re steaming, pan-frying, or boiling these jiaozi, get FBJ’s Zhong Dumpling Sauce to put on top and bring the flavors of Chengdu directly into your kitchen. Order here. Jamie Barys
Vegetables of China Weekly Planner
If you’ve ever walked through a Chinese wet market with wonder, or are looking to expand your veggie repertoire, this is the stocking stuffer for you. Whether you’re curious about celtuce or just want to get your life in order with a side of cruciferous knowledge, this weekly planner designed by the Cleaver Quarterly has fun facts about the veg, as well as how to store it and (most importantly) what to do with it once you’ve got it in your kitchen. Ours serves a dual purpose: meal planner and culinary inspiration! Order here. Jamie Barys
Khinkali & Khachapuri Cards
Since sending khinkali and khachapuri by mail would not be advised (as happy as we would be to receive a package of either), the online shop Made in Georgia has come up with a good alternative: greeting cards featuring illustrated renditions of the two classic Georgian dishes. Created by GeoPoster, a Tbilisi-based design house that publishes a range of very appealing Georgia-themed illustrated postcards, the khinkali and khachapuri cards cleverly riff on the two classics’ iconic shapes. They are sure to warm the heart of any fan of Georgian food – while likely also getting their appetite going. Order here. Culinary Backstreets
Yamasaki Sandwich Mold
There are some items that are so ingeniously frivolous that they become essential kitchen items. We’re thinking, for example, of those little corn-cob shaped prongs or zucchini spiralizers. To that list add the sandwich mold. Made by the Japanese firm Yamasaki Design Works, the elegant-looking tool solves the age-old problem of how to spread sandwich fillings fully and evenly to all four corners of the bread (this video demonstrates how). Simple yet brilliant (and, until you actually buy one and get hooked, totally unnecessary). Order here. Culinary Backstreets
Tea Cup Set
While doing some scouting recently in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo neighborhood (more on that to come very soon!), we came across the wonderful store Bunkado. Run by the same family for the last 75 years, the shop was one of the first Japanese-owned businesses in the area and continues to carry exquisite goods from Japan. Bunkado has recently set up an online shop carrying a selection of their most popular items, from a Godzilla-themed shopping bag to tea ceremony kits. We were particularly taken by a set of hexagonal tea cups with striking geometric designs glazed on them (although we would be happy to receive anything from this little shop of treasures). Order here. Culinary Backstreets
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