If Americans spent the latter half of the 20th century dining out to learn about foreign cuisines, the new century finds them puttering around their own kitchens trying to replicate what they had last week from their favorite take-out place. Especially in Asia-crazed Seattle, the prospect of making kimchee, phad thai, or mutter paneer from scratch isn't all that intim-idating; traditionalists, meanwhile, can revel in the region's myriad Germanic and Scandinavian recipes. If you recently discovered that someone on your gift list loves cooking Afghan, Turkish, or Swedish, pleasing them just got a whole lot simpler—so long as you know where to look.
Gift Guide 4:
Food & Drink
Baskets — Pack your own parcel of holiday cheer. By the Seattle Weekly staff
Stocking Stuffers — Tiny gifts can pay big dividends. By Emily Page
Wine — Sweet sips, from almost tart to sugar heaven. By Roger Downey
Delicacies — Are caviar and chocolate endangered species? Not if you're in the money. By Emily Page
Imports — Exotic foods are (almost) right around the corner. By Neal Schindler
Cookbooks — From charcuterie to chocolate, a bumper crop. By Lucilla
If your friends and family ache with nostalgia for the German prepared foods of their youth, then your first stop is the Continental Store (5200 Roosevelt Way N.E., 206-523-0606). For four decades, the little U District food shop, recently relocated to a better space with much better lighting, has offered the finest in Teutonic sweets and savories, including the full line of Dr. Oetker puddings and the graceful German answer to bricklike American fruitcake: Christstollen ($3 to $7, depending on size and kind), a sweet bread filled with marzipan, topped with powdered sugar, and laced with tiny bits of candied fruit. Another good source of Nordic imports, the Swedish Food Market at IKEA in Renton (600 S.W. 43rd St., 425-656-2980) stocks items like cloudberry jam ($9.90 for a 450-gram jar "made from wild, hand-picked cloudberries in North Sweden") and the spiced-wine concoction known, amusingly, as glögg ($19.50 for three-quarters of a liter).
Should your giftee-to-be prove too hot-blooded for frosty northern fare, you'll want to fix up a Mediterranean starter kit instead. DeLaurenti Specialty Food & Wine (1435 First Ave., 206-622-0141), the undisputed imports champ of Pike Place Market, maintains a rightly worshiped cheese counter and the dazzling Wall of Olive Oil—fancy a 25-ounce bottle of Casa Brina, imported from Florence, for $27.19? The place also offers cooked snails in a can ($12.99 for 17.5 ounces) and top-shelf balsamic vinegar from Modena ($29.49 for 8.5 ounces!) to go with that excellent oil. Another hot-climate haven in the Market is El Mercado Latino (1514 Pike Place, No. 6 in Post Alley, 206-623-3240), where Brazilian guava paste ($2.75) and Mexican "goat milk candy spread" ($7.50) provide sustenance for the Latin American sweet tooth.
A perennially underrated star in the constellation of local import stores is Big John's PFI (1001 Sixth Ave. S., 206-682-2022). Previously known as Pacific Food Importers, run by John Croce since 1971, PFI has a cheese case to rival DeLaurenti's and bulk spices (and polenta, and much more) in enormous white covered buckets. Compared to the visual bluster of nearby Uwajimaya (600 Fifth Ave. S., 206-624-6248), PFI's out-of-the-way location seems very casual; when you amass that much good food, word of mouth and a cash register must be all you need to succeed. Turkish eggplant stuffed with rice, currants, mint, and tomatoes ($3.25/can), lime marmalade from England ($5.05/jar), and kosher pickles from Israel ($2.05/can) are just a few of PFI's hard-to-find larder builders. If you're not into hunting and gathering, you'll appreciate the store's new gift boxes. The "gourmand" version ($41) packs fancy extras that can make or break an ambitious dish (half a gram of saffron, some dried porcini mushrooms, an ounce of white truffle oil, etc.), while the "brain food" box ($26) includes tinned herring, tuna, oysters, and even smoked octopus. And just in case the culinary adventurer you're buying for was bluffing, and has no idea what to do with 10.6 ounces of British treacle ($4.85), PFI keeps a rotating recipe list on its Web site, www.pacificfoodimporters.com.