12 Favorite Food-Friendly Souvenirs Slideshow
March 21, 2011
Favorite souvenir: Brennivín from Iceland. It's a token Icelandic liquor in a square green bottle that's often consumed in the form of a shot after hakarl (disgusting cubes of fermented shark meat). I've had it sitting in the front of my liquor cabinet for four years now, but can't bring myself to drink it — partly because I like having that visual reminder of my time in Iceland, partly because it's knock-you-off-your-feet strong and just the thought of sipping it makes my insides curl!
England: Lime Curd
Favorite souvenir: Lime curd from Harvey Nichols in Manchester, England — the TSA folks at the Manchester airport found it in my carry-on luggage. Sad, sad day when curd is considered a "liquid/gel." Went back a second time and that time learned that it had to go in my checked luggage!
Argentina: Café con Leche Mugs
Favorite souvenir: I went to Buenos Aires a few years ago, and the city is a carnivore's fantasy land. For vegetarians like me, not so much. The only time I didn't have to proclaim, "Soy vegeteriana!" was at breakfast, when I would down steaming mugs of rich café con leche, preferably with dulce de leche-laden bread or alfajores. I picked up a set of funky, vibrant coffee mugs at an eclectic store in there called Artentino, and every time I use them, they bring back happy memories of the trip... even if my coffee is a sad imitation of the bold Argentine brew.
Hawaii: Kona Coffee
Favorite souvenir: Coffee from a local mill in Hawaii purchased along the side of the road between Hilo and Kona on the Big Island was the last best thing I can remember. In fact, coffee and candy was the only thing I brought back from Hawaii. I've been considering going back for more coffee.
Italy: Truffle Honey
Favorite souvenir: I learned from a cooking instructor in Italy that one should not purchase truffle oil, but products with real truffle in it, as many chemicals are used to extract the truffle essence in making the oil. She served us crostini with fresh ricotta and a drizzle of truffle honey on top (swoon). It’s amazing what just a little bit of a quality, artisanal product can do. I purchased a small jar to bring home, and while I use it sparingly, it reminds me of the little gourmet shop and our cooking lesson every time.
St. Barth’s: Vanilla Rum
Favorite souvenir: After every dinner, vanilla rum (often homemade by the restaurant, if not, definitely by a local) is brought to the table. A shot glass is poured for everyone, and the bottle is left so we can re-fill our glasses to our liking. Bringing it home to NYC, and serving it to guests after dinner, always brings me back to those warm, relaxing nights!
Rome, Italy: Restaurant Hand Towels
Favorite souvenir: In the 1970s in Rome, all the better restaurants and trattorias had cotton hand towels with their logo on them in the bathrooms. Somehow, one used to always find its way into my pocket, and every time I'd come home from Rome I'd have four or five great, exotic cotton dinner napkins with evocative names on them. I gave up petty thievery about the same time the restaurants started putting out paper towels instead.
Morocco: Ras el Hanout
Favorite souvenir: Ras el Hanout is an aromatic blend of up to 30 or more different spices used for braising meats and in tagines in Moroccan cuisine. Each spice shop version has their own, proprietary mixture, the blend a closely guarded secret. I had purchased a few ounces from different shops on our tour of Medinas in Fez and Rabat, packing them in my suitcase for our trip home.
Customs agents at the Casablanca airport were opening and hand searching each suitcase for contraband. When a dour looking customs agent unzipped my suitcase, the full aroma of three different blends of Ras el Hanout wafted up. He sniffed around and gave me a quizzical look that asked, "What is that smell?" I said, "Ras el Hanout." His face lit up with a knowing smile, he said, “Aha!" and slammed my suitcase shut with an approving flourish, no further search necessary.
Alaska: Spruce Tip Ale and Smoked Salmon
Favorite souvenir: I brought back a growler (half gallon) of Spruce Tip Ale from the Haines Brewing Company in Alaska and like five pounds of smoked salmon from Dejon Delights, all from Haines, Alaska. I kept it all in my fridge to share with everyone who visited me. Best beer and salmon ever!
France: La Maison du Chocolat Chocolates
Favorite souvenir: We have this tradition in my family that my dad brings my mom and I a box of chocolates from La Maison du Chocolat every time he’s in France for business. But when I was studying abroad I got to take my best friend there and we made our own boxes, picking out all the chocolate, and then brought it back with us to Florence — granted the box was significantly lighter by the time we got home.
Europe: Regional Wine and Liquor
Favorite souvenir: I bought booze in each country I visited when I backpacked across Europe for four months. Carried some and sent some back. Wine from St. Emilion, absinthe and unicum bitters from Hungary, Passeo and Vin Santo from Sicily, grappa from Italy, Aquavit from Copenhagen. Had my $100 bottle of wine that I carried for four months on my back stored at my folks' place. One night I found out they'd opened it. I was like, are you kidding me?!
Russia: Dark Chocolate and Vodka
Favorite souvenir: When I was in Russia, I fell in love with their chocolates. There was a dark chocolate bar that they put air bubbles into so it had this great crackly texture. I bought about 10 bars to give away as gifts along with a nice bottle of vodka for myself. When I tried to leave the country, I discovered that the consulate back home had made a mistake on my visa, and I ended up stranded and spending five days navigating the intricacies of post-Soviet bureaucracy. And the only thing that made me feel better was, well, eating and drinking my way through those souvenirs. Sorry, friends and family.