Traveling is not only great for discovering new places, try new dishes and savor the world, but also for food shopping. I always leave space in my luggage to bring home food items from abroad to fill my international pantry. And yes, I’ve got a huge selection there.
While nowadays many things are available in ethnic supermarkets, such as Chinese, Indian and Arabic supermarkets, there’s hundreds of other countries that are not so widely known for their specialties, and they don’t sell everywhere on this planet. For me, it’s always a pleasure to go treasure hunting in local supermarkets and grocery stores abroad, and bring home some of these rare finds.
In this list, which is subject to permanent amendment and expansion, I have listed some of the most important food items I buy in countries I visit often, and my reasons for it. This list is my companion on every trip. I have explicitly not listed items that are easy to buy at home (such as coconut milk, Thai curry paste or chillies) but rather specialties and foods not easily available elsewhere. Feel free to share your own shopping list in the comments section!
- Tyrolean Speck (Ham) – The best smoked ham in the world. Try “Karree” (back) for a soft and lean meat.
- Pumpkin Seed Oil (Kürbiskernöl) – A black, flavorful oil for salad dressings and vinaigrettes.
- Ildefonso Nougat Cubes (Sweets) – Just divine. Chocolate in perfection.
- Carbonnade Spice Mix – for Bœuf á la Carbonnade, a heavenly, creamy beef stew.
- Belgian chocolate – there’s hundreds of not-so-commercial varieties no one has ever seen outside of Belgium.
- Cheese – in all forms, as long as my luggage allows and the trip is not too long. My favorites: Comté and raw milk Camembert (au Lait Cru)
- Duck or Goose Foie Gras – The real deal, even if I struggle more and more with my consciousness.
- Nordseekrabben (North Sea Shrimp) – if my travels allow, as these need to be kept chilled. Small, tasty shrimp – precooked and great on a warm Kaiser Roll with butter.
- Olive oil. My favorite is from Garda lake and sells at Carrefour supermarkets.
- Cheese. Nothing beats Italian Cheese. Freshly made Mozzarella keeps for a few days unchilled, and is so much different from the packaged product you get elsewhere. Or, try Stracchino, a divine soft cheese. I never go to Italy without my ice box.
- Pasta. Look for artisanal bronze-die pasta from the Gragnano region. The sauce really clings to it!
- Kroepoek (Prawn Crackers) – This Indonesian favorite comes ready to eat in chips packaging in an incredible amount of exotic and spicy flavors. My favorite: Conimex Saté Flavor. Heavenly!
- Cheese. Try some of the old Gouda variations, if possible do a cheese tasting at one of the many Cheese shops!
- Krówki (Fudge) – These addictive soft fudge candies are almost liquid on the inside.
- Pimentón de la Vera (Smoked Sweet Paprika) – A flavorful staple spice in Spanish Kitchen. Loves all meats.
- Paella Rice – This is the only rice to be used to make the traditional Spanish rice dish.
- Rum – Spain is Europe’s #1 country for drinking Rum. Every supermarket carries an incredible portfolio of imported rums from Latin America.
- Jamón Ibérico de Pata Negra (Pata Negra Ham) – The world’s best dried ham. Fed only with acorns, these pigs are happy throughout their life. So am I eating this divine and expensive ham.
- Embutidos (Various sausages and cured meats) – Easy to bring home in vacuum-sealed packages.
- Scottish Whiskey
- Macadamia Nut Oil – One of the best and healthiest all-purpose oils. Available in Australia at ridiculously low prices.
- Jasmine Tea – This flavorful tea is available in big dried balls, and unfolds once submerged in water to a Jasmine Flower.
- Hot Pot liquid soup base – get the real Sichuan spice mix for your Shabu Shabu
- Kopi Luwak (Coffee) – Said to be the best Coffee in the world. Coffee beans are eaten by cat-like animals, then excreted and collected. No joke. Hell expensive.
- Dried Mango – The best mangoes in the world, dried and at a good price. Avoid airport shopping.
- Macadamia Nut Oil – see Australia. Same same here.
- Virgin Coconut Oil – Made on tropical islands like Samui, and can be used for anything, including roasting and frying. Gives an excellent sweet coconut scent to dishes and is healthy.
- Dried Shrimp
- Fresh Fruit – Mangosteen, Mangoes and Dragonfruit are some of my favorites! Wrap in Newspaper.
- Seeds for Thai Herbs – In some countries illegal, but Thai Sweet Basil (Bai Horapa), Holy Basil (Bai krapao) or Coriander are always growing in my herbal garden!
- Lemongrass Moskito Spray – not exactly a food, but makes my home smell nice any day of the year!
- Wine – They have some remarkable wines in Brazil, little known elsewhere
- Olive Oil. Chile has developed a really nice Olive Oil culture. Great quality and prices.
- Wine. Special varieties like Carmenere, not easily available elsewhere.
- Quillaja honey – a honey from the pollen of a local tree
- Tequila – But not the cheap one you remember from high school. Try Don Julio 70.
- Dried beans – they come in all varieties. Base for local dishes.
- Herbs – such as Recao, also known as Culantro
- Rum – Puerto Rican Rum is known worldwide, try Don Q añejo or some local Bacardi specialties
- BBQ Sauce – Varieties are endless.
- Burger buns – The real deal.
- Talenti Gelato – Well, you buy it and eat it on the way to the airport. So good!
- Rum – Besides Puerto Rico, this is the best country for Rum. Try Cacique 500 or Pampero’s aged varieties.