A Last-Minute Grocery Store Gift Guide For Foodies

Nothing says "I love you" like a thoughtfully chosen condiment.

Hunter Browns Brown Butter Cubes, $13

This product won a Made in Vancouver Award this year and at the time we said this:

There’s a special rung high on the ladder for creators who produce something that heretofore you never knew you needed. Case in point: brown butter cubes. Anyone who’s picked up a cookbook, clicked on Epicurious or tuned into the Food Network will instantly recognize the conundrum: a given recipe just casually mentions brown butter as an ingredient. You know, no biggie. So, fine. Add 10 minutes to the recipe and another pan (and possibly a strainer) to the wash pile. And that’s assuming you don’t take your eyes off said pan for 20 seconds to find the entire batch has turned to black butter. Or, you can open this bag from Hunter Browns, drown in a cube and be done with it in five seconds. Seriously. Add the nutty richness to a simple pasta, give complexity to shortbread or supercharge a risotto all in the time it takes to open your fridge. Vancouver’s Hunter Browns is the first company to shortcut the path from pedestrian to gourmet. Game. Changer.

And you know what? We feel more strongly about them now. We’ve used them non-stop throughout the pandemic and they truly are a product that has no real competition in the market. Available at Famous Foods, Finest at Sea and Stong’s as well as through Legend’s Haul.

Umami Bomb Shitake Chili Oil, $9

I get people asking me all the time: What does umami taste like? It’s a really tricky feeling to convey. I end up mumbling something about mushrooms, Parmigiano cheese rinds and then they just nod and walk off. But now I can say “umami tastes like this” and point them to a jar of this flavour explosion of a chili oil that’s vegan to boot. The heat is actually quite mild, but there really is loads of deep umami flavour here. It’s very cool.

Available through the site or at Vegan Supply Chinatown, Plant Life Nutrition or Lucifer’s House of Heat.

Smokin’ Dragon Smoked Peach and Habanero Hot Sauce, $12

I’m not a hot sauce guy. I don’t go on hot sauce web pages and I’ve never said “Bring on the heat” and I don’t love Guy Fieri. I do like the web series Hot Ones, but that’s because I like to see famous people like Charlize Theron sweating. I think I’m a normal user of hot sauce—often on eggs, always on hash browns, frequently on rice, occasionally on bad pizza. And my choice of hot sauce is very pedestrian: Tabasco, Valentina (I love the Valentina), maybe Frank’s in a pinch, Sambal Olek and Sriracha of course.

But one of the perks of being an editor at VanMag is that I often get to judge in our Made in Vancouver Awards, and that exposes me to a whole new world of heat. Thank God there were no ghost pepper or Carolina reaper entires this year, but when I saw habanero or scotch bonnet I started to sweat a bit—in anticipation of sweating a lot. I was in for a pleasant surprise: the scotch bonnet hot sauces from Goldson Gardens were amazing. Undeniably hot, but tasty as heck and the heat dissipated relatively quickly. But for this, I’m going for the Peach Habanero from Smokin’ Dragon because it’s just a few scoville units milder and more versatile. It’s got a nice richness, some noticeable sweetness, but make no mistake, it’s flipping hot. Just not Guy Fieri hot.

Available online and at Smoke on the Water in Gibsons.

Caliente Hot Sauce, $9

As most people who know me well are very much aware, I’m not a fan of mustard. And I could have used this space to wax very much not poetically about why that’s the case. (OK fine, I’ll bite: it completely takes over anything you put too much of it in or on. A tablespoon in salad dressing? Yes, definitely. A slob of it on a hot dog? God no.)

Like Neal, I’m very much in the “I like hot sauce but not like Guy Fieri and also I don’t like Guy Fieri” category. So when I find an awesome, local (-ish) alternative to slathering Frank’s or Valentina on my everything, I’m one hundred percent in.

And that’s the case with the Salmon Arm-made Caliente. You know a hot sauce is figuratively if not literally fire when it’s kept in the produce section. Unlike the vinegar-heavy behemoths of Big Hot Sauce, Caliente has few preservatives and needs to be kept fresh. And it hits just hard enough that instead of destroying what you’re eating (a la mustard) it absolutely elevates it with a crisp, natural spice. There are three varieties on offer and I’m currently riding the Chipotle harder than the Vancouver Canucks rode Jacob Markstrom this year. Available at most Save-on locations and at Stong’s. —Nathan Caddell, associate editor