Words: Shamim de Brún
‘Tis the season to be both eating and gifting, so if you are a food fiend or have one in your life, this is the curated list for you.
No chilli oil. This is not a tip or a suggestion. It is a rule. Stick to this harder and faster than your first time. Even the fanciest chilli oil sucks. Either they will already have it if that’s their vibe, or if you’ve just bought a countertop dust catcher, they’ll feel too guilty to regift.
People who are nerdily, obsessively, or passionately into food probably spend way too much money on their weekly shop. It may have started as siracha, but it processed to White Mausu, and now there’s definitely someone telling them they need to cool it with the spenny preserves. That is where you come in.
There is no one-size-fits-all shopping list. So we’ve broken our gift guide into an edible and inedible food-oriented list.
TOP TIP: When in doubt, stick to the local Irish classics. We’re talking Harry’s Nut Butter, Grá Chocolates, A Cheese Board from Sheridan’s. You literally can not go wrong with any of these. They come in at all kinds of price points to suit all kinds of budgets, and the team behind all of them are supremely helpful.
However, if you’ve been buying pressies for the gastronome in your life for a few years and want to level up, go in on the not-so-basics. Consider these your next-level flavour enhancers — not strictly essential but the welcome-if-you-can-get-’em ingredients that chefs name-drop on their curated menus to add depth, spice, tang, or zip.
If you don’t know where to start or want a consolidated list of all the stuff we’re coveting this year, this is the edible gift guide for you.
Look, you can never go wrong with coffee. Especially if it’s locally roasted Irish beans. But there are so many options out there at the moment that it can be hard to know which to choose. But the word on the street is that Upside Coffee is currently the best in the biz. Many small independent shops are adding it to their rotations. Their Christmas box set is a particular beauty that would melt the cockles off even the snobbiest barista’s cold dead heart. Bonus points for all the sustainable packaging they use!
Click here to view the whole range.
Bean Crisp: Everyone has tried the peanut rayu from White Mausu, but their other options are just as good, if not better. But it’s always so hard to veer from your go-to that people rarely do. If you have a texture seeker in your life, the other two are just as good. They add a spicy, garlicky, crunchy kick to everything from rice to veggies to chicken and fish.
Sidebar: you can also try the cashew nut one over vanilla ice cream. Sounds weird but is wonderful.
Granola that’s a perfect ten: Every hipster café worth its salt makes its own granola. And nearly all of them are hot shit. My personal favourite is Tang’s granola. It can sound lame getting someone cereal for Christmas but remember that shit is expensive, and food people love it. Get them some coffee if granola doesn’t feel like enough as a present.
Kimchi is the obvious one. It is the instant flavour enhancer of most people’s dreams. Sauerkraut is also faultless in the eyes of many culinary custodians. But you wouldn’t think to give either as a present sometimes. The beautiful handmade selection by My Goodness is tasty, gorgeous, and made by hand. They also use only locally sourced ingredients. It ticks every box, including the affordable one, with this set coming in at around twenty-two euros.
All things pickled have a reclamation moment I have been waiting on all my life. Justice for the pickle is sweet and savoury. Many people have seen the light and know that pickles are the best part of burgers and sometimes even charcuterie boards. One Irish pickler makes the best pickles in all of Eire: Lolo’s Picklery. They’re a small Irish pickled onion producer making jars of the zaniest pickled onions you could imagine. The perfect pantry stocker for the flavour seeker in your life.
If you’re looking to homemaker your Christmas and have a food connoisseur in your life then many I suggest preserved lemons. They last forever, add a cured citrus brightness to stews, curries, grain dishes, and more, and are easy to make.
Tinned fish: Shines of Killybegs, Co Donegal, are a family-powered operation that have been producing a range of Irish canned and jarred fish for a good while now. Their sardines are a particular joy. Sardines have been gaining traction with an Irish food audience for a while now due in part to their ubiquity on small plate menus in wine bars. If you have a devout food adventurer in your life, this is the gift for them.
Charcuterie: Listen, sometimes meat is the right choice. Irish cured meats get better every year. With places like The Wooded Pig producing Michelin Level meats, they are the spot to hit if you have a carnivore on your list. They do excellent hampers, and their website has some really lovely pig pictures to peruse. It’s a win-win for everyone in the audience.
Hot Sauce is always a good gift, but it’s excellent if it’s an Irish-made Japanese-inspired hot sauce from Holly Dalton‘s Conbini Condiments. Each of these sauces is a winner, but as a set, they are what Christmas dreams taste like.
The savoury pistachio pesto from Doppio Zero is a revelation that even the most advanced food game players in Dublin have not tried yet. I’ve evangelised it to my nearest and dearest but have refrained from writing about it now for fear that there wouldn’t be enough for me to gorge on. But that seems all the more selfish at this time of year. It’s so off the beaten I can’t even find a picture of it, but it is in stock. I checked. So go forth and be converted. It is something I can’t get enough of.
Gifting cheese is a truly selfless gift; because you probably won’t get to have any of it. Irish cheese has been on a massive upswing over the last few years, and it’s so hard to go wrong that I could legitimately name over a hundred cheeses to include here. Instead, I’m recommending you go to Loose Cannon and pick up a curated selection.
Kevin Powell, the chef behind Loose Cannon and its former sisters Meet Me In The Morning and Table Wine, has a special relationship with Irish cheese mongers who send them whatever they think is particularly special. So if you pick up a selection here, you know it’s what the cheer love of your life will enjoy. It can run a bit expensive, but one good cheese is worth more to a cheesy chappie than a whole heap of meh ones ever will be.
Finishing salt: Maldon salt is the fancy salt you see name-checked on menus and on the tables of fancy restaurants, and it is expensive if you just see it as salt. But to food freaks like us, there are many types of salt that are used for dishes. Maldon is for purists, so stick to it if you have an OG who likes to feel fancy at home.
There is Irish Atlantic Sea Salt if you want to be modern Irish and interested. It comes in four flavours that have a massive impact on dishes with just a little sprinkling. Be warned though they may never be able to go back to bog standard salt after you give them this set. It is the definition of game-changing.
Chocolates are an international language. They say “I love you” but just exist. But nothing says more intimate appreciation for you in my life than handpainted labour of love chocolates. This year the branch out that is the most exciting is Tara Gartlan. Leaving the two Michelin-starred Chapter One to create and pursue her own line of chocolates is a brave move, but the treats actually speak for themselves. The Cloud Picker collab called “Flat White” is a particular winner.
When we gift wine, it is a wine we want to drink with the person we brought it to. Or it’s an emergency. I forgot someone and have emergency wine in the boot present. If you have a wino on your Santa list, then getting them a wine for them to enjoy at their leisure is the way to go.
Blow-the-budget-wise, you can get a subscription from Wine Lab, Station to Station or Booji Booze. If you want to get just one good bottle, hit up Neighbourhood Wine and ask them what wine their staff are fighting over. It’s probably the wine your Cork Dork also wants to try.
If you want something they probably haven’t tried at a reasonable price, go to Mitchell & Son in CHQ or Glasthule and ask about their core range. They’re really competitively priced, and because they’ve been around for two hundred years, you know, they have some really interesting picks. Also, unless your wino lives locally to them, they probably haven’t tried some of their stuff.
If you don’t want to actually talk to people, these are the four wines I’m most excited about at the moment. Red: Coutelou Matubu, White: Zantho, Gruner Veltliner, Fizz: Chateau Dereszla ‘Frisco’ Tokaji Frizzante, Orange: “Touch” by Koppitsch.
If you’re not one, buying for a whiskey nerd is one of the single most difficult shopping experiences you can have. I do not envy the loved ones of #CaskStrengthCrusade-rs. But as one of them, I am here to help.
If you want to blow the bank, the phrase you need to go to Celtic Whiskey Shop, Mitchell & Son or Dublin’s newest whiskey retailer Palace Bar, armed with is “single cask.” This is whiskey speak for limited edition. There are only so many bottles in a cask, so there can only be so many of this whiskey. But they never run cheap. Ever! So be emotionally prepared if that is the theme.
My top pick for under a hundred euros has been Blue Spot for the past two years, and until a new banging Cask Strength Single Pot Sill is released, it will stay so. They are hard to get, so go straight to the source and hit up Mitchell & Son. I have it on good authority that the Christmas batch is landing imminently, so get in touch and secure yours.
Easier to source winning products Blackpitts Cask Strength from Teeling. You can never go wrong with a classic Green Spot or Jameson Black Barrell.
A more interesting present for a whiskey whizz is actually a bottle of Olorosso Sherry. Most of Ireland’s favourite whiskies are sherried whiskies, but the average whiskey nerd hasn’t tried OG sherry. Pair it with a heavily sherried whiskey like West Cork Sherry Cask, and you can’t go wrong.
If you’re looking for a more Amsterdam-style edible gift guide, then hold on for April, and we’ll have a list for you.
Elsewhere on CHAR: Dublin’s Ultimate Off The Beaten Track List