Souvenirs: treasures at the supermarket.
Discover treasures that make great souvenirs at the supermarket when you travel.
Years ago, on our first trip to Europe, my husband and I were surprised to discover gourmet treasures at a Paris supermarket.
We were looking for a snack, and as I was cruising up and down the aisles I spotted the fleur de sel – a kind of French sea salt. So expensive in New York City gourmet shops, and absurdly cheap on the Parisian supermarket shelf. Along with cheese and a baguette we bought a squat round box of salt. As we walked around the city we decided that the pretty cork-topped containers would make nice gifts to bring home, and our backpacks grew heavy as we wandered through the city.
On that trip we bought lavender soap, too, from the supermarket, as well as bouillon cubes for fond de veau, fish broth, mushroom broth, and a variety of herbs.
Souvenirs and Gifts
On subsequent trips I bought gelatin sheets (more commonly used in Europe than the powdered gelation we use in the USA), Sel de Guerande (gray sea salt), verveine (lemon verbena) tea, herbes de Provence, espelette pepper powder, and French cookies, chocolate, and candy – all from supermarkets.
Shopping for inexpensive souvenirs and gifts at a supermarket will let you go home with a token gift – biscuits, soap, local spices – for everyone in your book club. And won’t keep you from shopping for local handicrafts as well.
Not Just France
In Spain and other countries you can buy beautiful tins of saffron. Italian supermarkets yield great finds in lined and blank notebooks, patterned paper, note cards, binders, and other office and school products that look distinctively different from what you’ll find at home. In Turkey look for nougat and Turkish Delight. You’ll want to avoid heavy glass bottles of olive and nut oils, but tiny vials of extracts are portable and will be appreciated by a cook who likes unusual things. And large upscale supermarkets may have dish towels and kitchen gadgets.
It Works at Home Too
It’s important to know your audience. Cookies, candy, or cheese? A friend of mine recently delighted me with a bag of stone-ground grits from a visit to her home town in Georgia. I’m really excited about it.
When I came home to New Hampshire from a visit to my mom in South Carolina I brought my husband excellent locally-made ginger cookies that I’d bought in a supermarket, and I stocked up on some Southern staples for my pantry.
In New Orleans my supermarket haul included gumbo file powder, needed for my Louisiana-style recipes, as well as crab boil, hot sauces, and my favorite brands of spice mixes.
I tend to avoid bringing fresh foods home as gifts or for myself. When traveling it’s critical to know what is and isn’t allowed by customs and that cute beagle that sniffs baggage looking for contraband. But when I go to California in the spring I always hit the supermarket for my favorite edible treasure: tiny tender artichokes only two or three inches long. They won’t last long once I get them in my kitchen, but for me, that’s the only souvenir I need.