What do you get the person who has everything?
Food, obviously. It's the one thing everyone needs, wants and is constantly running out of. Of course, we're not suggesting gift-wrapping some sweet potatoes and a box of Frosted Flakes. It needs to be something special.
Luckily, Portland is overflowing with markets full of hard-to-find items sure to impress your hardest-to-please friends and family. With the holidays on the horizon, we went gift shopping at some of the city's best specialty grocers. Here's what we found.
960 SE 11th Ave., 503-235-0059, kachkapdx.com/lavka. 11:30 am-6 pm daily.
Is it safe to officially call Kachka an "empire" now? In the past two years, the Russian restaurant widely regarded as the best of its kind in America expanded into a much bigger space while converting its old hole in the wall to a more casual spinoff called Kachinka, and then, just last month, launched a new market and deli in the upstairs corner of its main location. (That's not to mention the popularity of owner Bonnie Morales' cookbook.) Though smaller than the average bodega, the shop somehow manages to function as a grocery, sandwich shop and, on weekends, a waiting room for the restaurant downstairs. Sadly, its housemade horseradish vodka is not yet approved for bottling, but there are many other imported pantry essentials sure to thrill the aspiring babushka in your life.
Recommended gifts: A bottle of sea buckthorn oil ($12.99), a tasty finishing agent for vegetables believed to have multiple medicinal properties; a jar of pinecone preserves ($13.99), popular across Russia and Georgia, gives a sweet taste of forest in every spoonful.
Real Good Food
935 NE Couch St., 503-987-0828, realgoodfood.com. Noon-6 pm Friday-Tuesday.
Here's a secret that's more of an opinion but that anyone who's bothered to learn how to cook for themselves knows is true: Often, the only thing separating your home kitchen from those of the city's finest restaurants is access to high-quality ingredients. As its name implies, Real Good Food is where you can get your hands on a few of them. After decades of supplying the likes of Nostrana, Tusk and Le Pigeon with the stuff that makes their food taste, well, real good, Jim Dixon finally opened his own storefront this year, where you can find an exceptionally well-curated selection of sauces, salts and olive oil—lots and lots of olive oil.
Recommended gifts: A four-pack of olive oil ($20), imported from various regions of Italy, each with its own flavor profile; Pinhais Sardines ($7), from one of Portugal's oldest canneries; locally made Bobbie's Boat Sauce ($9), whose own secret ingredient is fish sauce, lending it a unique funkiness.
Citymaxx Food Store
3552 SE 122nd Ave., 503-719-4161, citymaxx.com. 9 am-8 pm daily.
You wouldn't guess it from the name, or even from gazing in the window, really, but Citymaxx's professed aim is to be the Eastern European equivalent of Whole Foods. Indeed, it's laid out like your typical supermarket, with bright lights and wide aisles, but the shelves are stocked with all manner of Old World items, many of which are hard to find elsewhere, from specialty chocolates and snacks to meats, fish and pickled vegetables.
Recommended gifts: The beer and wine aisle is where you'll find some of the rarest stuff, from imported mead ($28.99) to Georgian Kindzmarauli wine ($22.95-$44.95)—both of which come in attractive bottles you'll want to keep on display long after their contents are gone.
Providore Fine Foods
2340 NE Sandy Blvd., 503-232-1010, providorefinefoods.com. 9:30 am-8 pm daily.
There's a glut of high-end grocers in Portland, but Providore is probably the only one you'd actually want to hang out in for a few hours. It's almost like the foodie version of Powell's, if not in size than time-suckability. Sure, part of that is because you can get lunch there—though Flying Fish Company's oyster bar is moving out in 2020 to open its own brick-and-mortar—but it's also easy to get lost in its aisles, gazing at the expensive European dry goods and daydreaming about what you could do with them. And given that you can wander around with a drink in hand, you just might decide that today's the day you're finally gonna splurge.
Recommended gifts: A tin of Old Pulteney Single Malt Scotch Whisky Fudge ($19.99); Fallot & Cie Moutarde de Dijon ($15.99), French mustard stored in a delightful aluminum pale; a jug of Canada's downright chuggable Escuminac Maple Syrup ($23.99).
81 SE Yamhill St., 503-449-8346, giraffegoods.com. 11 am-6 pm daily.
Crammed into the corner of indoor market Cargo, this Japanese deli is easy to miss but should not be overlooked. Go beyond the refrigerator stocked with grab-and-go pork katsu and egg salad sandwiches and you'll find an impressive selection of sake, along with a shelf of miscellaneous items ranging from locally made porcelain to ramen stock. Of course, you could just stop at the register and load up on Pocky, koala cookies and sugar-frosted ginger candies—helpfully labeled for the season as "stocking stuffers."
Recommended gifts: A package of somen noodles ($24.50), the angel hair pasta of Japanese noodles; Kewpie Mayonnaise ($7) in that super-squeezy bottle that can also double as a stress ball.