Feeling panicked about your Christmas shopping? Well, I don’t have a miracle for you. But I can prevent the same stress from happening again next year. Travelling is a great way to explore culture, architecture, art, history and all those esoteric things. But it’s also a great way to shop for presents.
International shopping for the foodie and non-foodie (everybody eats, after all!) is easy, although you do need to take into account the import restrictions of your country and how well you can pack your goodies. And, if you’re buying for a specific occasion, you’ll want to choose your product based on how far in advance you’re travelling — you don’t want to gift someone with a moldy pastry.
The ultimate foodie gift from abroad is the truffle — if your country allows you bring them home (Canada does not). Check out this white truffle for sale in a shop in Rome:
Yes, you read that right: 360 Euro for 100 grams. A more realistic gift is truffle oil (pair it with the simple instructions below to make the best french fry accompaniment ever).
Some countries will allow you to bring in a small amount of meat or cheese “for personal use”. In this case, you can bring back a couple hundred grams of Italian pecorino, burata or prosciutto. Most European and South American countries boast an intriguing selection.
If you’re shopping for a baker, bring them some European butter — it has higher butter fat and lower water proportion than North American butter, and makes richer desserts.An already amazing Nigella Lawson recipe will be even better. Bakers — and their children — will also appreciate food decorations from the supermarket — real dragées from France, and other multi-coloured and inventively shaped sprinkles for cupcakes and cookies.
Packaged foods are much easier to import, and will last longer in case your gift giving occasion is months away. Sundried tomatoes, dried mushrooms, honey, mustard, or pickled anything are good choices.
Many markets, like the Campo di Fiori in Rome, will sell you a local spice mixture so that your recipient can replicate a foreign meal at home. Look for arrabbiata for pasta in Italy, or a Cajun blackening mix, Montreal steak spice, or Pacific fish seasonings. Spice lovers won’t be too jealous of your trip to the Caribbean if you bring them back some cinnamon, cloves, ginger, or, especially if you go to Greneda, nutmeg. Other good spice gifts are peppercorns from India (Tellicherry) or South East Asia (Sarawak from Borneo, Lampung from Sumatra, or Kampot from Cambodia). Unique salts in a range of colors and flavors can be found round the world, as can tea and coffee beans (Jamaica Blue Mountain, Hawaiian Kona, and Ethiopian Arabica are favorites).
Cocktail drinkers will be thrilled with a bottle of bitters that is unavailable at home. Try Peychaud’s (originally from what is now Haiti, and available in the U.S., particularly the southeast), Venezuelan Meinhard’s Bitters, Germany’s The Bitter Truth, or a mind-boggling selection from Australia. A foreign soft drink is another cute gift. I’m a big fan of Tizer from South Africa — it comes in apple and grape (both white and red) flavors. And Rooibos tea, whether in leaf or soda form, makes a great South African gift.
Happy eating and gift-giving!
If you’re making real French fries at home, simple ketchup just won’t do. Mix up this concoction several hours in advance and your French fries will go from incredible to perfection. Measurements are approximate, you will need to adjust to your taste.
About 1/2 cup Heintz ketchup (really, there is no better)
20 – 30 mL black truffle infused olive oil
This one is easy: Just mix 20 mL truffle oil into the ketchup and let sit, covered with plastic, on the counter for a couple hours. Taste test to see if you taste only ketchup, or if the je ne sais quoi of the truffle oil makes your taste buds dance. Add more truffle oil as needed. Serve at room temperature with piping hot, twice-cooked real frites.
If you have extra (?!) it will store nicely in the fridge, covered, for a week or two.