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Traveling... what condiments should I bring back?


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#1 thecuriousone

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 12:12 PM

Hi Everybody-

I'm traveling to Italy, Greece and turkey. while i fully plan to see every ruin I can, I am also preparing for my real passion. The pantry.

I have already prepared my second suitcase with tons of bubble wrap, and copied every page of the customs documentation on what is allowed. By the question though is what should I focus on to bring back. I have gone abroad enough times to pick all of the low handing fruit. Its simple to find good dijon, good balsalmic (although expensive) and other things here.

What I am looking for meets the following two criteria:

1.never makes it out of the county so if you dont get it there, you will never taste it.
2. would cost your right arm IF you could find it in the states.

So far, the list has one thing. Saffron and lots of it. I keep hearing about amazing pistachios. I hope to find a level of balsamic that I could not afford at home. What is the one spice I should not leave the grand Bazaar without?

I am looking forward to whatever you propose. any brand suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I will also be on the lookout used cooking magazines and saute pans. any ideas of where to find good, used equipment would also be really appreciated.

thanks in advance for any suggestions.

#2 OliverB

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 12:27 PM

truffles if you like them. Easy to find in Italy. I'm sure you can find Balsamic in any quality, from cheap to $1000 or more per bottle.

Greece some wild oregano. I sometimes get that via my sister in Germany who gets it from friends that live in Greece and collect it themselves. Wonderful.

Sadly you can't bring cheeses or meats or breads, but that's pretty much first thing I buy when I'm in Europe, and lots of it. I don't go on vacation to loose weight :-D

High quality espresso from Italy, if you like that and have a machine for it - or one of those Bialetti (spelling?) stove top makers I love.

Some dried peppers if you like spice, there are plenty you just can't get here. Spice mixes. The best curry I ever bought comes in a spice grinder from an Austrian company of all things. Super fragrant and tasty.

Throw out the bubble wrap and use pasta bags instead :-)

beech wood or other locally used wood if you have a smoker.

Explore the local markets, dried herbs from a farmer, maybe something pickled, things like that.

Anything commercially available you can pretty much order online nowadays. I look at the local specialty stores and see what I don't know, take that.
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#3 OliverB

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 01:32 PM

hmm, I guess I can't edit the post. But regarding your criteria, I can't think of anything that you can't order, except things that you're not allowed to bring in. And risking bringing them in is not worth it IMO, just eat/drink lots of it there, return often.

Well, except those locally picked and prepared things, that you probably can't buy one village over.
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#4 haresfur

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 01:40 PM

Maybe focus on finding things you aren't familiar with. Don't ask if they are available back home - if a shop keeper or a market stall has something interesting and is helpful, then buy it from them. IMO it's about the experience of the culture as much as anything.
It's almost never bad to feed someone.

#5 Hassouni

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 02:47 PM

In Istanbul (I assume that's where you're going in Turkey?), in general, food is to be found not at the Grand Bazaar (Kapalıçarşı) but at the "Spice" Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı - Egyptian market) - so called because indeed that's where you buy spices! Some local markets will of course have food too.

Beware most of the red thready stuff for sale there is safflower, not saffron. As for real saffron, despite what you hear about Spanish and Greek and god knows what, the best, hands down, is Iranian "sargol" saffron (sargol = head of the flower). See if the saffron for sale in Turkey is from Iran, and if it's all a uniform dark red, then you're in business.

Get something called isot, which is roasted, dried, and oiled hot pepper flakes. It's similar to "Aleppo pepper", usually called pul biber in Turkish, but is roasted (I think), much darker, and has a deeper taste. See here: http://www.lezzetspi...ts/isot-pepper. You can also get some nice pul biber

Also get something called salça, which is a paste made of sundried tomatoes or peppers (domates salçası or biber salçası, respectively). The latter especially is AWESOME stuff to cook with, and comes in two varieties, mild (tatlı - "sweet") or hot (acı). The hot isn't that hot and makes a great addition to any tomato-based sauce or stew.

As far as I can think, most other Turkish spices and seasonings can be found in the west rather easily. See if you can get pure ground salep, which is a flour made from orchid roots and the basis for a very thick, creamy winter drink.

You probably CAN get all the above overseas, but they won't be as fresh or good, especially the salça. It's sold in jars in Turkish supermarkets, but the Mısır Çarşısı has it in bulk in big tubs. It's much better.

What is MUCH harder to find is called in Turkish ceviz sucuğu, or walnut sausage (like the Georgian churchkhela, if that's familiar). It's a string of nuts dipped in boiled down grape juice concentrate and left to firm up. Looks gross, tastes delicious. VERY hard to get outside the region. Buy lots of it.

As for pistachios, yes, they're very good. A lot are probably grown in Turkey, but Iran produces by far the most in the world, and some of the best, so there's a good chance you're actually buying Iranian pistachios. Just FYI

If you're a caffeine addict, Çaykur, the Turkish state tea monopoly, has a product called Tiryaki Çayı, which means "addict's tea" (literally opium addict's tea, but the word has come to mean any addict). I don't know if they add caffeine to it, but it has way more of a caffeine buzz than regular Turkish tea. I haven't seen it for sale outside Turkey.

Edited by Hassouni, 20 December 2012 - 02:49 PM.


#6 weinoo

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 03:56 PM

I tend to like to bring back lighter things than wood :wink: .

Always on the lookout for dried mushrooms -- most are 1/2 the price I pay here...make sure they're from the country you're in, however.

Interesting dried spices/herbs are always fun.

I think the coffee here, now, is light-years better than what they serve at most places in Italy, so I eschew bringing back coffee.

A pound or two of whatever cool salt they're selling in the supermarket. Same with a few cans/jars anchovies. Honey.

A bottle (per person) of some hard-to-find, not imported booze.
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#7 janeer

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 06:52 PM

Alas, gone are the days when you could smuggle in a few local cheeses--truly the one thing that you can't get anywhere else, sometimes even the next town over.

I have often brought back honeys that I have never seen/tasted anywhere else; look at farmers' markets. And I always, in Italy, buy some good vin santo; it is very hard to get here outside of a major city, and very pricey.

#8 Kerry Beal

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 07:50 PM

Actually most cheeses can be imported for personal use into the US - link here to the rules.

If you take one of the little vacuum sealers and the ziplock bags that go with it - I find that helpful for cheese packing. Or get the vendor there to vacuum pack it for you.

#9 tsp.

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 07:52 PM

Ha, I recently wrote a post on food souvenirs. Enjoy the holiday.

#10 LOS

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Posted 20 December 2012 - 08:31 PM

truffles if you like them. Easy to find in Italy. I'm sure you can find Balsamic in any quality, from cheap to $1000 or more per bottle.

Sadly you can't bring cheeses or meats or breads, but that's pretty much first thing I buy when I'm in Europe, and lots of it. I don't go on vacation to loose weight :-D


Do not bring white truffles home unless you buy them the day before you return. I've seen a lot of very expensive disappointments this way.

You can bring meat in as long as it is in a can or a jar. A few times we've been successful with vacuum-packed salumi, but that depends on your customs agent and my failure rate is over 50%.

I don't think I've ever had cheese refused by US customs, despite the fact that 95% of it has been raw milk. Be aware, though, that the most recent security regs classify soft cheeses as a tool of Al Qaeda, and they are verboten on carry ons. I really thought my wife was going to attack that guy at CDG this spring, or at least make us miss our flight...you don't want to step between her and her raclette. So make sure you put those soft cheeses in checked luggage.

If'n it was me, I'd be bringing home all kinds of greek goat cheese (including feta, if Greece was my last stop). And lots of Italian cheese too. Raw milk is officially acceptable as long as it's aged long enough. But, as I said above, most customs agents don't worry about the aging requirement.

But none of these are condiments. I'd do a good stock of the best tinned anchovies, and salted capers. Good olive oil. Some authentic Turkish ajvar. Canned sicilian tuna. I've never had good luck buying balsamico in Italy; if I want the real stuff, Rare Wine Co is more reliable (great olive oil, too). Some interesting jams/jellies/confitures from things that don't grow well here.
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#11 Mjx

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Posted 21 December 2012 - 03:15 AM

. . . .

. . . . I'd do a good stock of the best tinned anchovies, and salted capers. Good olive oil. Some authentic Turkish ajvar. Canned sicilian tuna. I've never had good luck buying balsamico in Italy; if I want the real stuff, Rare Wine Co is more reliable (great olive oil, too). Some interesting jams/jellies/confitures from things that don't grow well here.


Word of warning regarding anything that is jarred or bottled: the TSA is well with in its rights when opening any and all items of that sort, and they don't always re-close containers properly (or at all). I had one aggravating mess involving a bottle of shampoo was opened, and then just tossed back into my suitcase without being recapped. The oil from anchovies or the like would have to be exponentially worse, so you might want to keep this in mind, when you're packing for the homeward journey.

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#12 thecuriousone

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Posted 21 December 2012 - 07:19 AM

To everyone, thank you! this is what the list currently looks like:

Largest tin of salt cured anchovies I can fit into the luggage
Ditto to above for salt cured capers
Basalmic - Im sure that there is a working class "special occasion basalmic" that I can afford a goodly amount of to bring back. I will start my search at Billa but have a list published by the guardian of their 10 best alimentari.in Rome to check out also.
Vin santo


Hassouni-

You are my new best friend. Can I use the spellings you put in this post? Will they know what I am talking about or should I spend some time with google translate? I would be interested in the following things you mentioned:

sargol- how will I know sargol or is my only option to ask the vendor?
isot- is this spelling anglicized?, if so, how is it written in turkish?
domates salçası or biber salçası,
ceviz sucuğu,-Is this typically sealed or air dried? Should I look for it air drying in the market or bagged?
Tiryaki Çayı-I would love to get some of this.............but is it called anything else that has less of a probability of getting me in trouble if I am mis-understood? Remember, I don't know Turkish for, "No, No take the handcuffs off!! you misunderstood!!!"(Im old enough to remember midnight express, so im just being careful)
Your link to the spice vendor (Lezzeri?) no longer exists, error code 404 http://www.lezzetspi...ts/isot-pepper
You made a reference to the, :Mısır Çarşısı, is this a vendor in the spice bazaar?
I will also be going to Izmir, are my best options in Istanbul?

LOS- if its any consolation, my husband and I had the same experience at CDG many years ago. My husband was trying to figure out he he was going to explain to my family that I had snapped on security personel over some cheese......................It made perfect sense to me.


I have a weak spot for acetic agents that I have never seen before and have been known to bring back vinegars just because I have never seen then before. Is there anything that I should be on the lookout for? An example would be something called Melfor, that I found in a supermarket in Brittany. It was in the vinegar section of the supermarket and made it home with me. Im still not sure what its made of. all I can say is that my husband always uses it in his "special" vinaigrette.

Thanks again for all of the comments and please post more if something else comes to mind!

#13 Hassouni

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Posted 21 December 2012 - 08:10 AM

The spellings are all as written in Turkish, except for sargol, which is Persian. The equivalent in Turkish would be "çiçekbaşı" but that's just a translation so I'm not sure if that's a valid expression, and I can't guarantee a vendor will know what you mean. "Iranian saffron" in Turkish would be "İran safranı" - I would say if whatever saffron you find has a really uniform deep dark red color, you're good to go. Do NOT get safflower by accident - it's worth looking up a picture of it so you know how to tell the difference, if you don't already.

for everything else, it's exactly as written in Turkish - Turkish uses a form of the Latin alphabet. Domates salçası is tomato paste, biber salçası pepper, if it's hot it'll be acı biber salçası, mild will be tatlı biber salçası. There might be other adjectives in front (adjectives in Turkish go before the modified noun), but it should be a nice deep red and smell good. You might be able to have a sample.

Ceviz sucuğu (or sucuk, it changes as a function of grammar) is sold both sealed and unsealed, hanging on strings off of hooks. The open air ones are better - the bag ones are more industrially produced.

Tiryaki çayı will get you in no trouble at all, don't worry :laugh: It's made by a subsidiary of the Turkish govt so it's all good.
Don't worry about the Lezzet spice vendor, it was just to show you what isot looks like.

Mısır Çarşısı is simply the name in Turkish for the famous market known in English as the Spice Bazaar, one of the two main bazaars of Istanbul. It's not nearly as big as the grand bazaar, and has lots of stuff besides spices, but it is more food-oriented than its larger counterpart. There are also lots of vendors along the outside walls of it. It's right by the waterfront of the Golden Horn, near the Yeni Cami (new mosque) and the ferries to the Asian side. If you're by the dock, you can have great fish sandwiches (balık ekmek) for a song, sold off a cart on the docks.

İzmir: not very familiar with it, but they say it's the most European city in Turkey culturally. It's very famous for its nargile (hookah) culture, so if you're into that, send me a message and I can give you some tips.

Edited by Hassouni, 21 December 2012 - 08:11 AM.


#14 PSmith

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Posted 21 December 2012 - 03:07 PM

Turkey - Turkish delight, apple tea.

Greece - honey, figs oregano, ouzo (aniseed liqueur), olive oil & olives.

Italy - Limoncello, Limoncello and more Limoncello

Oh and did I mention - make sure you get a bottle of Limoncello when you are in Italy. :laugh:

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#15 janeer

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Posted 21 December 2012 - 10:35 PM

Actually most cheeses can be imported for personal use into the US - link here to the rules.

If you take one of the little vacuum sealers and the ziplock bags that go with it - I find that helpful for cheese packing. Or get the vendor there to vacuum pack it for you.


Thanks for this info. I've had locally produced raw milk cheeses--the kind that are really local to a village--taken from me at customs. I had pretty much given up.

#16 Hassouni

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Posted 22 December 2012 - 05:14 AM

Apple tea is vile, made from chemicals, and no self-respecting Turk drinks it. It can be found at any overseas Turkish grocery store, too, in the same mass-produced packaging. Don't waste luggage space on it.

As for Turkish delight (lokum or rahat lokum) - Istanbul airport has a ton, and the Mısır Çarşısı has a decent vendor, Güllüoğlu (one of the best for baklava), but the VERY VERY BEST, and the inventor of it, is Hacı Bekir, whose main shop is on İstiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue) just south of Taksim Square. If you're going to Istanbul it's a shame not to spend an afternoon at least on İstiklal Caddesi - definitely get your lokum from here. They also do ceviz socuğu if I remember correctly, though don't quote me on it. Here's their website http://www.hacibekir...eng/asayfa.html and their address:
İstiklal Cad. No.83 / 6 34433 Beyoğlu / İstanbul
They also have a location in the old town (Eminönü), which you can see on their site.
You can find Hacı Bekir products overseas, but not as easily as some of the more inferior brands, so get a few boxes at their shop.

As for ouzo, if that's your thing, Efe Rakı and Tekirdağ Rakı from Turkey are more refined and smooth than almost any ouzo I've tried. You can get Tekirdağ at Istanbul Airport but not Efe.

As for olive oil, you're going to the Med region, so I'd get a bit of high quality stuff from each place, if you're interested in that. Keep in mind that really fresh olive oil starts to deteriorate very quickly.