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15 tasty gifts for cooks and self-proclaimed food lovers

Illustration by Patrick Hruby / Los Angeles Times; animation by Li Anne Liew / For The Times

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This is part of the L.A. Times 2022 Gift Guide. See the full guide here. If you make a purchase using some of our links, the L.A. Times may be compensated.

Give a food lover a holiday present and the odds are in your favor that you will be deliciously rewarded. Curry kits, hot sauces, honey, grow-your-own mushrooms — here’s what to wrap up for the cooks and eaters in your life. Don’t be surprised if you score a dinner invitation.

Strings of Life pantry basket

Everything bagel seasoning and chile sauce from Strings of Life
(Strings of Life)

I once gifted a friend a basket of condiments and spices from Trader Joe’s for Hanukkah. She declared it the best gift in the universe. This year, I’ll be doing the same but with pantry items from the Strings of Life restaurant in West Hollywood. Head chef Jordan Mathurin and his team are making excellent versions of sriracha (S.O.L.-Raccha), chile crisp and everything bagel seasoning along with an addictive tomato chutney and strawberry rose geranium jam. And for the caffeine-heads, there’s the Common Room Roasters S.O.L. blend coffee. Buy it all, stick the jars in a basket and add a bow. — Jenn Harris

$8-$16 at Strings of Life

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Ayara Thai curry kit and condiments

A curry kit from Ayara Thai
(Ayara Thai)

The Asapahus have been serving up family recipes at their Thai restaurant in Westchester for almost two decades. The densely flavored curries, made with chef Vanda’s grandmother’s curry pastes, are a favorite. You can buy a curry kit that includes both red and green curry paste, coconut milk, vegetable oil, fish sauce and palm sugar to re-create her grandmother’s curry at home. Just add your protein of choice, vegetables and basil. And for the condiment lovers, the restaurant sells its When Tigers Cry sauce, pad Thai sauce, Thai BBQ sauce, chile-lime sauce and more to use as a marinade, dipping sauce or to eat with a spoon. — J.H.

$17 for the kit, $9.75 for the sauces at Ayara Products

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Kuya Lord pantry kit

Vinegar and chile sauce from Kuya Lord
(Jenn Harris/Los Angeles Times)

There’s no better way to show food lovers some love than by gifting them something that will inject instant flavor into any dish. Consider Lord Maynard Llera’s chile oil. The Kuya Lord chef-owner makes a sandy paste full of chiles and fried garlic. It’s good on the fish he serves at his restaurant but also on a breakfast burrito, with eggs or anything deemed edible. The same goes for his vinegar (add a couple of drops to invigorate whatever you’re eating) and the achara, a pickled green papaya with garlic and red bell pepper that makes an ideal condiment for anything grilled or fried. — J.H.

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$9-$13 at Kuya Lord

Tea from three favorite shops

Tins of loose-leaf tea
(Tea Habitat; Song Tea & Ceramics)
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Drinking exceptional loose-leaf tea can reset everything you think you know about the world’s second-most consumed beverage (trailing behind only water). The same plant, Camellia sinensis, yields astoundingly different flavors depending on the methods in which its freshly picked buds are treated. Every palate can find something to savor. For curious beginners, Rare Tea Company’s gift set of four English breakfast blends shows off how one wildly popular style of black tea can vary in notes of malt and caramel — with or without milk. Song Tea & Ceramics in San Francisco, a favorite of tea geeks for its small and highly edited selection, just began carrying next-level matcha; the aged Old Grove matcha from Kyoto is floral and also chocolatey and is unlike any green tea you’ve tasted. And from the best tea shop in Los Angeles, Tea Habitat in Alhambra, owner Imen Shan specializes in oolongs with otherworldly fragrances called dan cong. The honeyed, minerally aromatics of lao xian weng, also called Eternity, will dazzle even the most well-versed tea lover. — Bill Addison

$42.99 for English breakfast tea set at Rare Tea Company
$110 for Old Grove matcha at Song Tea & Ceramics
$90 for lao xian weng (Eternity) at Tea Habitat

Sunset Cultures sustainable fridge and pantry products

Two bottles of Sunset Cultures kombucha
(Danielle Adams/Sunset Cultures)

As restaurants shut down because of the pandemic and farmers lost that revenue stream, chef Balo Orozco and bartender Jacqui Harning launched a fermentation and bottling business to help curb food waste and offer produce growers a new source of income. The best part about it? The kombuchas, vinegars, jams, hot sauces, fermented honeys, salsas and everything else they make under the label of Sunset Cultures taste damn good. Orozco creates hyper-seasonal fizzy tonics and pantry items such as carrot kosho from excess or “ugly” produce, and the products are always changing. Stuff a stocking with a bottle of persimmon vinegar or a jar of Thai-chile honey, purchase one of the brand’s gift packs or assemble one yourself for someone who loves farms, fermentation or simply gourmet foods — especially if they love all three. Find Sunset Cultures online or at local shops such as Wine & Eggs, Sara’s Market, DTLA Cheese and Gjusta Grocer. — Stephanie Breijo

$6-$18 at Sunset Cultures

Mister Parmesan

A pink hat that says Mortadella from Mister Parmesan
(Mister Parmesan)
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Why not help loved ones wear their food obsession on their sleeve? Pasta-centric apparel brand Mister Parmesan launched earlier this year as a side project from Semolina pastaiolo Samuel Schiffer and his partner, designer Catherine Soulé, selling hats, beanies and totes embroidered with the words “spaghetti,” “rigatoni” and “macaroni,” among others. It has since evolved into collabs with Milkfarm (for “butter,” “gouda” and “ham” hats); Jamaican pop-up Rubie for “jerk” caps; and occasional L.A. Times illustrator Marianna Fierro for a popular “mortadella” hat (you can find her mortadella kitchen towels in last year’s gift guide). Order hats, tees, stickers and more online, or find the brand in select L.A. food shops such as Semolina, which is also selling a holiday gift basket with Mister Parmesan attire, pasta and an art print. — S.B.

$5-$38 at Mister Parmesan

A stack of indie food magazines

Rows of food magazines on wooden shelves in Now Serving
(Stephanie Breijo/Los Angeles Times)

For whenever the holiday feasting and the chaos of family hosting are complete, give the gift of relaxation: I can think of almost nothing more serene for a food lover than kicking up one’s feet with a whole mess of magazines about the dishes, wines, coffees and cuisines that interest them. A slew of L.A. food stores and bookshops carry culinary mags, whether they’re written for niche hobbyists or general-interest bookworms. Now Serving, for instance, is heralded for its cookbook selection, but the Chinatown store also stocks dozens of artful, thoughtful and beautifully produced food magazines made locally and from as far as Japan, Mexico and the United Kingdom. Para Llevar ($22), a new L.A.-made magazine, focuses on one restaurant per issue; its first volume is all about Gjusta and the behind-the-scenes employees who make the business run. Fatboy Zine ($18) explores Asian food and culture through a series of recipes, essays and photos, while Speaking Broadly ($16), a print spinoff of the podcast of the same name, gives voice to women in the food industry. There are food magazines devoted entirely to single ingredients (see: Cacao, Short Stack, Cheese, Magazine F); food magazines that interview chefs from diverse locales and backgrounds (Toothache); and food magazines that explore a theme each issue through illustrations, photos and articles (Compound Butter, Eaten). There’s a food magazine or 10 for everyone on your list this year, and half the fun is perusing the shelves to find the perfect fit. — S.B.

$5-$80 at Now Serving

Victor’s Honey from Victor Jaramillo

Jars of honey from Victor's Honey
(Lucas Kwan Peterson/Los Angeles Times)
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Victor Jaramillo has been working with bees and honey since he was a small child in Zacatecas, Mexico, but he estimates that beekeeping in his family has been going on for centuries. It’s no wonder he’s known locally as “The Honey Man.” He can be found most days (Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.) selling his famous honey on a stretch of sidewalk just east of the El Sereno library with the help of his son John. Regular honey costs $12 and $24 for 12- and 32-ounce jars, respectively. The hand-processed raw honey, all from local El Sereno hives, costs $15 and $30. Half-gallon options are also available. — Lucas Kwan Peterson

Victor’s Honey, 5236 Huntington Drive S., El Sereno

Support Black-owned businesses at Hank’s Mini Market

Chocolate sold at Hank's Mini Market
(Kanda Chocolates)

Kelli Jackson runs Hank’s Mini Market, a family-owned business in the Hyde Park neighborhood of South L.A. that celebrates its 25th anniversary this year (Jackson’s father is the eponymous Hank). The business aims to provide healthful eating options and effect social good in the community. Hank’s Mini Market, 3301 W. Florence Ave., sells a curated selection of products from Black-owned businesses, many of which are local, including Kanda Chocolates ($8 per bar or $21 for three), Cereal & Such ($11 per box) and coffee from Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen. — L.K.P.

Various products at Hank’s Mini Market

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Merch from South LA Cafe

Coffee bags from South LA Cafe
(South LA Cafe)

Joe and Celia Ward-Wallace, both Los Angeles natives, opened South LA Cafe (1700 Browning Blvd.) in Exposition Park just months before the COVID shutdown. But the coffee shop and cultural center persevered and has stayed true to its mission of combating food inequity and serving the community. South LA Cafe has its own line of coffee beans for sale for $19 as well as a selection of other merchandise on its website, including T-shirts ($25), hoodies ($35) and beanies ($30). Shoppers can also choose to sponsor a box of groceries for a local family for $50. — L.K.P.

Various products at South LA Cafe

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Mushroom Mini-Farm grow kits

Fungi from a Mushroom Mini-Farm grow kit from Far West Fungi
(Far West Fungi)

Mushroom Mini-Farm grow kits from family-owned, Bay Area-based Far West Fungi are a fun, easy way to keep a mushroom lover flush with fresh, exotic, edible fungi. The compact 9-by-7-by-12-inch kits need only a little more space than that on your counter. Once set up, all you have to do is mist them regularly to harvest and then enjoy homegrown mushrooms for up to five months. Individual kits include shiitake, tree oyster, pink oyster, yellow oyster and lion’s mane. The variety pack includes your choice of four types. — Julie Giuffrida

$25 for individual kits, $80 for a variety pack at Far West Fungi

Take it Easy: Recipes for Zero Stress Deliciousness

"Take It Easy: Recipes for Zero Stress Deliciousness" book
(Abrams)

In her fourth cookbook, Los Angeles-based cookbook author, food blogger and California lifestyle writer Gaby Dalkin applies some pandemic life lessons to her cooking. Having learned to value the time with friends and family that was so absent in the last few years, Dalkin streamlined her cooking methods for her mega-flavorful, hearty and nutritious meals so you can spend less time in the kitchen worrying about the food and more time at the table, enjoying the crowd. The book includes revamped reader favorites from her blog, “What’s Gaby Cooking,” such as chicken parmesan meatballs and spring rolls with peanut sauce and nuoc mam as well as simplified classics such as oven-baked ratatouille and Korean BBQ-inspired meatloaf. — J.G.

$35 at What’s Gaby Cooking

Stella Falone cutting board

Ebony cutting boards from Stella Falone
(Stella Falone)
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Butter and charcuterie board aficionados as well as any cook who prefers a wooden cutting surface will appreciate an ebony cutting board from Stella Falone. No trees are cut to make these products. Rather, they are assembled from scraps left on the cutting-room floor after the wood to make musical instrument parts is processed. The large, reversible cutting board ($199) is marbled wood on one side and black on the other. It measures 18 by 11.4 by 1.6 inches and also features a juice groove on one side and grooved edges for easy gripping. The smaller board ($129) is also reversible and measures 11.4 by 11.4 by 1.6 inches. The cafe paddle ($59) features beautiful marbling and at 14 by 6.4 by .5 inches is well suited for entertaining and smaller spaces. — J.G.

$59-$199 at Stella Falone

Cemcui stone molcajete

The molcajete nahum volcanic stone parota with a wood base from Cemcui
(Dabata Torres Coronado / Cemcui)

If you’re searching for a holiday gift that expresses artistry, utility and permanence — given its material, volcanic stone — there’s nothing quite like a molcajete from Mexico. This heavy kitchen implement, traditionally carved from a single hunk of rough basalt and paired with a grinding tool called a tejolote, exudes an ageless elegance; I consider mine to be one of my most prized possessions. After its initial seasoning, I’ve used it for everything: grinding peppercorns, mashing avocados for guac, mixing salsas, even turning tough sea salt crystals into a fine powder. Molcajetes come in various sizes and materials, such as granite or other polished stones, but I suggest reaching only for proper black volcanic basalt. And if you manage to get one wrapped, the feel of this item’s weight will leave any gift-guesser totally stumped. — Daniel Hernandez

$22.42-$274.64 at Cemcui

Holbox hot sauces

Six jars of sauces
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

If you were to check my refrigerator on almost any day, you’d find a well-used bottle of Gilberto Cetina’s habanero sauce. I always pick up the sauce when I eat at his L.A. restaurant Chichén Itzá, a longtime favorite in our family for panuchos, cochinita pibil and many other Yucatecan classics. The sauce is fantastic for adding an underlying layer of spice to your cooking or just on top of a beautifully fried egg. But with the opening of Holbox, Cetina’s second restaurant in the Mercado La Paloma, this one devoted to seafood, the chef has upped his sauce game with a menu of six different recipes. They include smoky chile morita sauce, which is blended with balsamic vinegar for a bit of sweetness; arbol-guajillo sauce, a take on the classic salsa roja; arbol-peanut sauce, Cetina’s variation on salsa roja with toasted peanuts; Veracruz-style salsa macha, which the chef says has pre-Hispanic origins; his classic habanero sauce; plus his spiciest sauce of all, chile kut, which Cetina says is from a recipe that goes back three generations. You can order six packs of the Chichén Itzá-label habanero and chile kut sauces online. But if you’re stopping by Cetina’s Michelin-cited Holbox for lunch or dinner — and why wouldn’t you? — pick up a selection of his sauces for your favorite chile lover. — Laurie Ochoa

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$4-$35.95 (for six-pack) at Holbox and Chichén Itzá

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