All of your fine linens and cutting-edge electronic gadgets are lost on those of us who live to eat and drink, for whom there can be no greater gift than a truly memorable meal. Consider, instead, allowing the food-obsessed person in your life to borrow your Italian grandmother so she can teach him the secrets of her tomato sauce, or booking him an all-expenses-paid trip to Taiwan to explore the pleasures of soup dumplings and stinky tofu.
Short of that, and any food lover on your gift list would surely appreciate receiving any of the following food-focused gifts, all of which you can pick up right here in the East Bay.
Kimchi and Pickles from FuseBOX $4–$9
FuseBOX, West Oakland's tiniest and most soulful Korean restaurant, has garnered no shortage of praise in large part because of chef Sunhui Chang's eclectic, seasonally inspired kimchis and pickles. But did you know that, with just a little bit of advance notice, all of those various pickled and fermented items can be purchased by the jar? The selection will vary depending on what the chef is working on in any given week, running the gamut from traditional napa kimchi to more obscure options, such as fennel kimchi or kale pickled in a Korean hot mustard brine. Kimchi is priced at $4 for a small jar ($7 for a large) and pickles are $5/$9, plus a $1 refundable jar deposit. All in all, it's inexpensive enough that there's no reason not to get a whole assortment for that person in your life who, in the words of the FuseBOX tagline, "bleeds kimchi."
FuseBOX, 2311-A Magnolia Ave., Oakland, 510-444-3100, FuseBoxOakland.com
Shrub Gift Set from INNA Jam $24
You might be familiar with INNA Jam, Emeryville-based jam maker Dafna Kory's line of intensely delicious fruit and pepper jams. Less well known, but equally gift-worthy, are Kory's shrubs, which she's likened to "jam pickles" — syrups made with equal parts fresh fruit, vinegar, and sugar. INNA's mini shrub gift set includes small bottles of four different flavors: Seascape strawberry, Meyer lemon, Triple Crown blackberry, and quince. This would be a great gift for an aspiring mixologist, given that shrubs are a featured ingredient at some of the Bay Area's trendiest cocktail bars. But even a teetotaler could appreciate these shrubs: Mixed with sparkling water, they make for some of the most refreshing (and bracingly vinegary) sodas you'll ever try.
INNA Jam, 1307 61st St., Emeryville, 510-214-6620, INNAJam.com
Brew Your Own Beer at Diving Dog Brewhouse $300
For a more hands-on gift, consider buying a $300 gift certificate to Oakland's newly opened Diving Dog Brewhouse — $300 being the cost of a personalized brew-your-own-beer session. If your giftees are beer nerds who have considered dabbling in the dark arts of home brewing, this offers the perfect opportunity for them to geek out: to pick one of 26 different beer recipes, create custom bottle labels, and have a professional walk them through every step of the process. Mind you, this is no gift for the lazy; after all, the recipient has to do all the brewing and bottling during two, two-hour-plus sessions, spread across a two-week interval. But you wind up taking home about a keg's worth of booze (five to seven twelve-bottle cases), and since the brewing and bottling process is more fun with a friend anyway, this would be the perfect gift for several beer lovers to split.
Diving Dog Brewhouse, 1802 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-457-1148, DivingDogBrew.com
"Live-Roasted" Coffee at Artis $49
This is potentially another experiential gift, given that Artis specializes in "live roasting" — a process by which the customer selects raw green coffee beans and a desired roasting level, and then watches as a staff member roasts the coffee to order in one of the cafe's unique popcorn-popper-like air roasters. For the holidays, Artis is selling a $49 gift set, which features a handsome tote bag and three different (already roasted) coffees. But perhaps an even better gift would be to simply buy a gift certificate and tell your friend to visit Artis at 10 a.m. on a Saturday, when the store does guided coffee tastings, or anytime really — chances are, your giftee will enjoy going through the personalized roasting process him or herself.
Artis, 1717B 4th St., Berkeley, 510-898-1104, ArtisCoffee.com
Butchery Class at Local Butcher Shop $75–$185
For the meat lover who wants to get down and dirty and develop serious cleaver-wielding skills, Berkeley's Local Butcher Shop offers a variety of butchery classes that range in price from $75 (to learn how to make sausages or cut up a whole chicken) to $185 (to break down an entire pork leg). All of the classes are heavy on hands-on participation, and participants bring home a sizeable portion of high-quality meat. Space is limited, so make sure to sign up for classes well in advance.
Local Butcher Shop, 1600 Shattuck Ave., Ste. 120, Berkeley, 510-845-6328, TheLocalButcherShop.com
Sauce of the Month from Heat Hot Sauce Shop $7–$23 a month
Here's a gift for the unrepentant chili-head in your life — the one who's always trying to order dishes "Thai spicy" or "Indian spicy." Heat Hot Sauce Shop, Berkeley's temple to the almighty Scoville scale, offers a few excellent options. Sign your heat-seeking friend up for Heat's Sauce of the Month Club, priced at anywhere from $7 to $23 a month, depending on how many bottles (one to three) you want to buy each month, and whether you can come to the store to pick them up. Once you're signed up, you can personalize your selections by telling the Heat staff your preferred heat level and flavor profiles. Alternatively, locavores might opt for the customizable Hot Sauces of the Bay Area gift pack ($29), whose four bottles might include a taco sauce made by Palo Alto firefighters and Heat's own deadly, house-made fatalii chili hot sauce.
Hot Sauce Shop, 1922 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley, 510-849-1048, HeatHotSauce.com
Three-Six-Nine Wine Club Membership at Bay Grape $69 a month
If you need a gift for someone who loves wine, but know next to nothing about wine yourself, Bay Grape's "Three-Six-Nine" wine club has got you covered. For $69 a month, the gift recipient will get three carefully curated bottles, plus a handy set of pairing notes. On the first Tuesday of each month, the store hosts a "pickup party," at which subscribers can get a free taste of all three wines and chat with the owners about what makes each one great. Who among us can't get jazzed about a free wine party?
Bay Grape, 376 Grand Ave., Oakland, 510-686-3615, BayGrapeWine.com
Seasonal Pies from PieTisserie $20–$26
Just in time for the holidays, the flakiest all-butter pie crust in Oakland makes a glorious return: PieTisserie, Jaynelle St. Jean's long-shuttered pie window, will be reopen in its new brick-and-mortar home near Lake Merritt — at least for pickup of advance orders — by Wednesday, November 26. If you're reading this too late to snag a pie for Thanksgiving, you can make up for it by buying one of the seasonally appropriate pies St. Jean will be offering in December for $26 each: a candied-yam pie with homemade marshmallow fluff, an eggnog cream pie, a cayenne-spiced "pecante" pie, and, my favorite, a chocolate peppermint cream pie that I once wrote was "like taking a bite into Christmas itself." For the pie gifter who wants it all, $20 will buy a four-pack that includes miniature versions of each pie — aka the perfect thing to bring to your end-of-year holiday party.
PieTisserie, 1605 2nd Ave., Oakland, 510-859-7437, PieTisserie.com
2015 Donuts of the Bay Area Calendar $20
If you're shopping for that special someone who loves fried dough and whimsical artwork in equal measure, this gift combines the best of both worlds — though it is, sad to say, inedible. Each page of the calendar boasts a vibrant, drool-inducing watercolor by San Francisco artist April V. Walters, a doughnut connoisseur who, for the second consecutive year, has created the calendar as a tribute to her favorite Bay Area treats. This year's edition shines a spotlight on at least two East Bay representatives: Uptown Oakland's doughnut-hole specialist Donut Savant and King Pin Donuts, Berkeley's late-night doughnut king. Order the calendar via Walters' online store, DonutGalleria, on Etsy.com.