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Spice up the holidays: the ultimate mail-order gift for the pantry lover

Masala dabba
Photo courtesy of Nupur of One Hot Stove

At this time of year, newspapers and magazines and, yes, some of my favorite blogs, offer holiday gift suggestions for food lovers. I've picked up some wonderful ideas for new cookbooks and gizmos, and I'm looking forward to Menu for Hope (December 14-25), where I'll bid on more great foodie-friendly items to give as gifts.

Last year, I put together a series of eight posts with gift suggestions for food lovers. This year, I have one great idea, borrowed from Indian cooks. Take it and make it your own.

In every Indian kitchen, next to the stove, you'll find a masala dabba, a round spice box with seven smaller individual bowls inside. (Do you remember the beautiful story Nupur shared about hers in Other People's Pantries?) The box holds the cook's favorite spices, the ones that give special characteristics to that cook's favorite dishes. With an inner lid and an outer lid, the spices inside stay fresh.

Traditionally, the masala dabba holds the basics for Indian cooking, but you can customize the contents and fill the seven little bowls with any combination of spices.

Start with the masala dabba, available at Amazon.com for $22.95.

Then, have fun filling it with spices for any type of cuisine.

From The Spice House, put together a collection of Greek and Turkish spices, including Aleppo pepper and dried mint leaves.

At Penzeys, go south of the border, with cumin, ground chiles, and Mexican oregano.

Gather your favorite Asian spices from Dean + DeLuca, including star anise and five-spice powder.

Zamouri Spices is the place for Middle Eastern spices like sumac and mahleb.

And it's all available by mail order.

So... what would you like to find in your masala dabba? A collection of salts and peppers? Warm spices for baking? Chile peppers and chili powder? Or traditional Indian spices, like fenugreek and cumin seed?

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


I would love a masala dabba, but sadly they are a bit too expensive here. It is on my wishlist though :) maybe one day....

Lydia I have a masala dabba given to me by a very special patient who never had the opportunity to have one last visit to India. I have my favourite spices in there and am always reminded of him. I think this is a perfect gift.

Reading the PP every day, one cant help but ponder: 1 masala dabba only?? Won't the spices left in bottles get all jealous and start a revolution?? HAHA

Thanks for linking to lasts years posts.....made for good reading

right now mine is holding allspice,basil,chives,coriander,cumin,thyme, and turmeric..that changes tomorrow as I change what spices it holds on the first Friday of the month.Don't know what it will hold tomorrow.

Thanks for the informative post Lydia.Although we keep the most basic and convenient spices in our masala dabba due to the fact that we mostly cook Indian food, my wish list would be this ideally: Sweet Basil, Rosemary, Cayenne pepper, ginger/garlic powder, goda masala, and cumin/black pepper/clove mixed powder. using this I can tackle most kinds of food.

@Anna - you can buy masala dabba here for $10 US including shipping.


I have shopped from this site before.

what a GREAT IDEA! and not just for the holidays - this is the best housewarming gift ever!

I've never one of those before. It would be a cool gift. If I hadn't already sent out my Christmas list I'd put it on the list. I think I would put Kosher salt, cinnamon, thyme, oregano, basil, bay leaves and cloves.

What a wonderful idea!! I think I may gift one to myself. :)

This is a terrific gift idea, Lydia. And I'm with Kelsey. I might have to treat myself!

Anna, lucky for us, Sri has given a link below to a less expensive source, so maybe there will be a masala dabba in your future!

Bellini Valli, isn't it lovely that every time you use your masala dabba, you will think of this special person? I think you are very lucky to have this treasure.

Milton, I actually have two; one has Mexican spices, the other basics like salt, pepper, thyme, etc. If I were a baker, I'd have a third, for cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.

Julia, what a great idea, to change every month! It sounds like a great way to keep your cooking fresh and varied. Thanks for the inspiration.

Sri, I'm so glad to know about this source for Indian groceries and cookware. And I think, for $10, I might just buy that third masala dabba to organize more of my spices.

Carol, this would be a terrific housewarming present. I hope someone I know moves into a new place soon -- great idea.

Paula, as a food writer (before my blogging days), I got to poke around in a lot of kitchens, and in the kitchen of an Indian cook I first saw a masala dabba. I loved watching her pinch from each spice to blend her own curry powder.

Kelsey, Susan: that's the best idea yet!

Lydia, that is a fabulous idea and a gift that I would absolutely love. I would want mine filled with sweet Hungarian paprika and smoked paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg, chipotle pepper powder, cumin and fleur de sel. Oh, how wonderful it would be ...

Great post, and great idea! Mine would be very Eastern European influenced. Dill, quality paprika, caraway seeds, thyme, bay leaves, a nice salt, and also a nice pepper.

I really want a masala dabba, what a great idea to have different ones for different food cultures!

wonderful idea!


I can see that turning into a table centre piece - maybe that's just my feral food side coming out!

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