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You Should Do All Your Holiday Shopping at an East Asian Supermarket

Pull off a single holiday shopping trip while you’re picking up groceries

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Nanoblocks in the shape of onigiri, a ceramic mug printed with paper cranes, and a blue Japanese serving bowl.

Finding the time to leave the house and actually go holiday shopping might seem next to impossible, especially in an era where many people get even their groceries delivered. But there’s a way to make things more efficient: While you’re making the Herculean effort to pick up a take-out noodle soup or per-piece dim sum brunch at your local Chinese, Japanese, or Korean supermarket, know that options for holiday shopping are all over the aisles. Broadly speaking, the housewares, beauty, and stationery sections at these stores are full of great gift ideas, particularly in the “stocking stuffer” category — and particularly if your recipient is really into food.

Ceramic tea mug and infuser

For years, this ceramic tea mug (with an infuser top) was my parents’ go-to gift for teachers, hairdressers, and other casual acquaintances — basically anyone who qualified for a $10 or under “it’s the thought that counts” type of gift. A sleeker, more modern version ($21) by Jewel Japan features elegant origami cranes, while your horoscope-obsessed friends might appreciate a mug dedicated to their Chinese zodiac sign ($7).

Nanoblock sets

The Japanese 3-D block company Nanoblock is seemingly ubiquitous now (there’s a whole section dedicated to them at my local Japanese supermarket), and among their food-dedicated offerings are mini sets dedicated to onigiri, hamburgers, and bowls of ramen ($10 each). The sets are true to their name; the tiny blocks make a finished product usually just inches tall, which makes the item a great stocking stuffer and the completed project a fun little desk accessory.

Iwako eraser set

You’ve likely seen the extremely cute Iwako eraser sets before: They tend to sit near the checkout at supermarkets, toy stores, stationery shops, and boutiques that sell anything someone might consider a gift. I have several of these, including the “Chinese dim sum” set and the “Japanese sweets” grouping, on display on random shelves throughout my house.

Japanese dishware

A beautiful serving bowl or other dish always makes for an appreciated hostess gift, and most Asian markets will have a decent selection, from items designed for every day to those that look more “special occasion.” Consider the Japanese-made Aranami serving bowl ($46), Blue Sumi bowl for two set ($36), or a larger ceramic serving bowl ($25) that can also double as a fruit bowl.

Sheet masks

Sheet masks are a low-stakes way to gift someone a “treat yourself” moment. Missha’s sheet masks ($2 each) all have food- or produce-related ingredients like honey, pomegranate, and acai berry.

Regional sauces and spreads

As you head through the aisle for your regular groceries, keep an eye out for any regionally-made items that might be unique to your recipient. At my local market, Nong’s Khao Man Gai sauce, the gingery topping atop the famous Portland food cart’s most famous dish, is readily available. Elsewhere, you might be able to find a coveted chile crisp, achaar, or chile paste.

A better lunchbox

If you have a meal prepper on your list, consider upgrading their take-out container collection with a new lunchbox set. This 3-in-1 stacked set is inspired by a tiffin, while a more elaborate thermos lunch jar ($60) promises to keep a hot meal warm through the day. Another, sleeker option is this reusable bento box ($24) that makes sad desk lunches feel slightly less sad.

SNAAACKS

It’s not the most creative gift, but no one’s going to be mad at receiving some greatest-hit options of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean treats, particularly if you’re able to score harder-to-find flavors or are able to introduce people to something new. (I’m partial to the Japanese Kabaya Pure apple gummies and the peach- or cola-flavored Fettuccine gummies.)

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