Nfld. & Labrador

Here's where to buy gifts for the foodie on your list in St. John's

Christmas is all about giving and eating, even in COVID times. So why not combine the two and give the gift of delicious to your fave foodie friend? Freelance writer Gabby Peyton is your guide.

Tis the season for giving and eating. Gabby Peyton is your guide on doing both well

Be inspired with some hard-to-find pantry items at Waterwest, which has items upstairs by its restaurant, as well as downstairs, in its butcher shop. (Submitted by Gabby Peyton)

Christmas is all about giving and eating, even in COVID times. So why not combine the two and give the gift of delicious to your fave foodie friend?

St. John's has an impressive number of specialty food shops for its population — holes in the wall across the city where you can pick up Lebanese spice blends, Chinese chili oils or canned sardines from Spain.

In addition to the increase in immigration over the past few decades, which has stimulated a desire for international foodstuffs, a rise in interest for culinary travelling through one's own kitchen has made the hunt for more obscure ingredients bigger than ever. Let's also not forget the explosion of home cooking during a global pandemic; quarantine cooking is all the rage this year, whether we like it or not.

St. John's retail has responded with a variety of little shops and restaurants importing delicious flavours from around the globe. Whatever you're cooking, whichever ingredient you're searching for is probably available right here in St. John's.

Here's where to get specialty gifts for the foodie on your list.

Asian sauces to lemon curd

Just Goody Mart: All your hot pot needs can be met at Just Goody Mart on Freshwater Road (including pots), not to mention a wall of shelves brimming with instant ramen noodles imported from Japan. The plethora of Asian sauces and condiments here can complete any home cook's kitchen, like Japanese curries and at least a dozen types of chili oils from China, including chili crisp — the crunchy, garlicky, spicy condiment — which has developed a cult following in North America.

Belbin's Grocery: This landmark neighbourhood grocery is a great place to fill a Christmas stocking with local and international goodies. Belbin's Grocery stocks truffle oil, Maldon salt and even caviar, which can be purchased at their store on Quidi Vidi Road. Like their sister store Colemans, British treats like clotted cream are also on offer. They even sell their own caramel rum sauce and lemon curd by the jar.

So Kee Grocery operates in a small shop on Duckworth Street, near Prescott Street. (Submitted by Gabby Peyton)

So Kee Grocery: So Kee Grocery on Duckworth Street is the go-to place in the city for Chinese ingredients, from frozen dumpling chives to red bean cakes and noodles. Kimchi, Thai curry pastes and hard-to-find items like Bull-Dog tonkatsu sauce are also regularly imported. For a long-lasting Christmas gift, So Kee also sells industrial-sized woks, Chinese crockery, chopsticks and bamboo steamers for the dumpling-maker on your list.

Waterwest Kitchen and Meats: The deli counter at Waterwest Kitchen and Meats is filled with Quebec cheeses and their own range of pates and terrines but this Water Street restaurant and butcher has trouble keeping their fancy grocery section stocked. Waterwest focuses on European foodstuffs like olives, balsamic vinegar, and sardines as well as their own spices mixes. There is also a selection of cutting boards and F. Dick chef knives.

Desi Meal Restaurant: This Elizabeth Avenue restaurant is so much more than a delicious buffet. Desi Meal stocks Indian and Pakistani groceries like ghee, chutneys and sooji golgappa for making pani puri, as well as frozen samosas and parathas. There is also a great selection of treats like Punjabi biscuits and snacks like chanachur.

Urban Market 1919 opened just this fall on LeMarchant Road in central St. John's. (Submitted by Gabby Peyton)

Urban Market 1919: This newly opened market is the place to go for all your local fine foods from across Newfoundland and Labrador. Urban Market 1919 regularly stocks Newfoundland sea salt, Chinched charcuterie, Ollie's Pasta and Five Brothers Cheese. Handmade crafts and art take up about half the store, where you will also find Wild Island Teas and Java Jack's sauces and jams. The hot ticket this Christmas? Cocoa bombs by Mama Made That; they can't keep them on the shelves. Pour hot milk over them, see them dissolve into wonderful chocolate and marshmallow, and let your problems dissolve. 

Imported spices, handy utensils

Andaluzia Market: Walking into Andaluzia Market on Peet Street is like walking into the Istanbul Spice Market (even with a mask on). Three small rooms are crammed with any type of spice you can think of imported from Turkey, Egypt and Iran and fresh fruits and vegetables are imported from Egypt on the regular. Juicy dried dates are sold by the kilo, as is the Turkish coffee, along with shiny copper coffee pots and cups.

Home on Water: Home on Water is one of the preferred places in the city for kitchen utensils, equipment and cookbooks but for the holidays they stock up on specialty foods like Rogers' Chocolates, Newfoundland Salt Company and Third Place Tonic, including their signature Holiday Wassail tonic.

Unobtrusive chest freezers line the walls at Tindahan Ni Kuya Brett, which also carries some snacks. (Submitted by Gabby Peyton )

Tindahan Ni Kuya Brett: Don't let the chest freezers fool you at Tindahan Ni Kuya Brett. Open them up and you'll find a trove of fish and frozen foods imported from the Philippines. An unassuming Empire Avenue strip mall is home to the place to go for Filipino dry goods like ube and pancit noodles as well as snacks like shrimp chips and tamarind gummies.

Food For Thought: Food For Thought on Gower Street has been a pantry-filler for years. In addition to the bulk items that keep regulars flocking back to this shop for more than 20 years, there are also specialty items like Scandinavian crackers, harissa and olive oils that you can't find anywhere else in the city.

Sedra Food Market: Sedra Food Market on Freshwater Road is the newest addition to the international market scene in St. John's with a focus on imported and halal foods from Syria, Iran and Egypt. Giant tubs of colourful candy-coated almonds line the walls along with dried goods like beans, dates and rice while cheeses like nabulsi and akawi are fished out of giant briny bins for customers. Sedra also sells small glass teacups popular in the Middle East, as well as kettles and hookahs.

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Gabby Peyton is a freelance food writer in St. John’s.