Traveling around different parts of the world, it’s always a challenge to find things that are new. In this age of globalization, it is easy to find the same boring stuff in practically every corner of the world. Of course I mainly only traveled to first world countries, or at least countries in the same hemisphere as me, but I still find that there are very few unique products that I can bring back to the United States.
So on all of our trips, we make it a point to go to health food stores or other specialty stores that don’t exist where we come from. One of the best things you can bring back from a trip is sea salt. Salt is the original local food. We have a small collection of sea salt from all over the world: Italy, Hawaii, Sicily, Spain, France, Germany, and so many other places. Each salt has its own character. The textures, subtle sweetness or lack thereof, are quite fascinating and are a nice touch to any meal you make when you return home.
Another thing I love to get when it bring back to the United States, so that I can enjoy them in the comfort of my own home is honey. Honey has got to be the other original local food. We have eaten local honeys from Spain, Jamaica, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Switzerland, Italy and France and just finished up a jar from Germany. It’s really fantastic to taste all the different flavors depending on what the bees are feeding on thyme flowers, coffee flowers or something else. The flavors are completely different and complex. Some surprisingly not as sweet as others and others so sweet it’s almost like a punch in the face.
One great food we like to bring back from our travels is coffee. I know, I know everybody says you shouldn’t be drinking coffee. However, even some of the strictest health gurus today are admitting that they enjoy a good cup of coffee every now and again. Remember when we talk about moderation we talk about real foods. And coffee in my opinion is one of those real food. Surprisingly, the coffee that I found the best in all of my travels over the last 10 years, is supposedly not the Kona coffee from Hawaii, nor is it the blue Mountain coffee from Jamaica. It certainly wasn’t the Costa Rican coffee that I had down there a few years ago. It wasn’t even the French coffee or the Italian espresso or cappuccino (which is the past was one of my favorite treats), but it was the coffee in Germany all places. Germany had the absolute best tasting coffee I have had probably in my life. What was so great about it? It didn’t have a really acidic flavor and it didn’t even leave an aftertaste in my mouth. So we ended up bringing back about 4 pounds of it just enjoying at home. We drink a little (mine with lots of milk) on the weekends. A nice memory of a relaxing vacation in the exciting city of Berlin.
One last food that we like to bring back, but have to be careful with is cheese. You can only bring hard cheeses back into the United States. For the most part, in Europe at least you can still purchase wonderful raw milk cheeses which are packed with digestible nutrients lost in pasteurized versions. You are allowed to bring these back to the States technically, but with ridiculous raw milk regulations constantly becoming stricter and stricter in the US (so much for a free country), it is more and more difficult to bring this back.
So sometimes if there is really good hard cheese from a place like Switzerland, I’ll buy a few pounds the day before I leave, have it vacuum sealed and put it in my suitcase. This is an amazing treat because the quality far surpasses most cheeses available in the United States.
The final and most important thing that I like to bring back for myself is a cookbook — sometimes translated to English, sometimes not. Whatever I do, I make sure the cookbook focuses on traditional ingredients — the ones that have kept people healthy for centuries, not the politically correct versions that ruin every dish by using cheap vegetable oils or perhaps worse, giving low-fat advice. These books reveal the real ways that people eat, not the sanitized version pushed by overpaid scientists who lose their funding if they don’t push low quality industrialized products on people.
For my friends, I often will buy them one of the above gifts — if I have room. If not, a new thing I have found to be a great gift is shopping bags. Every supermarket in Europe seems to have reusable shopping bags for only a Euro each. They are often made of excellent quality and are a nice practical and compact souvenir that anyone would appreciate.
So what do you like to bring back from your travels? Well at least what you like to bring back that’s legal to bring back?
2 thoughts on “Travel souvenirs: What are the best souvenirs to bring back?”
Great article. I don’t travel outside of the US but we travel around the states on a motorcycle. I do look at cookbooks and buy some but sometimes I’m disappointed in them. Even though they are older recipes, they must not be old enough because a lot of people used Crisco and processed foods like cake mixes and canned soups. Anyway, I like the ones with info and old stories of their area where they live. I mainly purchase postcards and send them everday on my trip. That’s my favorite thing to send back home. 🙂
That’s a great idea. In this day of the internet, a lot of people (myself included) forget about postcards!
Here in the US, it is hard to find real cookbooks especially regional ones because everyone is trying to be so politically correct. Interestingly enough, in other countries, you can find the real stuff in the tourist cookbooks, but the ones in the bookstores are all about low fat, tasteless crap!