Travel

20 Supermarket Souvenirs We Always Bring Back from Our Travels

Exploring grocery stores abroad is simply the best.

January 16, 2019
Photo by Mark Weinberg

Whether I'm traveling near or far, my very favorite part of visiting a new city is exploring local supermarkets. Slowly making my way up and down the aisles, taking in all of the regional specialties in chip flavors, sauce varieties, and even cleaning goods, is not only an easy window into a culture's idiosyncrasies, but a jackpot for (often edible) souvenirs, as well.

Seems I'm not the only one who thinks this way. My coterie of like-minded colleagues are all in the same boat when it comes to navigating markets big and small, close to home and in far-flung reaches of the globe.

My favorite? Côte d'Or dark chocolate with almond bars from Monoprix in France. They may not be fancy, but they're dang good! (And you can find them here stateside now, too, but often at a premium.) Read through to see what other special goodies we're making sure to leave space for in our baggage.


Edible Delights

"After living in Ireland, I become obsessed with their brown bread and soda bread. Now when I visit, I like to get a loaf of McCambridge bread from either Aldi, Dunnes Store, or Centras when I’m there." —Megan Güntaş, digital designer

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I always hit the supermarkets for souvenirs and in Europe, I like to go to the pharmacy/drugstores, which sounds odd, but they have pretty cool things at the local chemist. Boots is my favorite drugstore. Love their coconut deep hair conditioner and face soaps. Elsewhere, I like to stock up on fizzy vitamins and toothpaste. Especially enjoyed the fizzy aspirin that I got in Florence. ”
— HalfPint
Comment

"All sorts of tinned fish from Portugal, tubes of nduja, and jars of Calabrian chile paste from Italy. Also from Italy, dried pici pasta—it's mostly from Tuscany but you can get it all over (like Emiglia Romagna). I rarely see pici here so love to stock up!" —Ella Quittner, food writer & recipe developer

"Holy moly, this bar from Swiss company Sprungli is amaaazing (there are like 100 whole hazelnuts in there). I dream about it, and rationed one for almost a year." —Joanna Sciarrino, executive editor

"A friend recently brought back honey from Djibouti. It's thick like molasses and tastes like smoke and salt. I've never had anything like it before." —Alayna Reum, junior retoucher

"Salt from France. Fleur de sel, especially, is a great thing to pick up because the prices are so great. I also will hop on the chocolate train and add that I love grabbing a few big bars of Cailler chocolate in Swiss supermarkets." —Annalee Leggett, strategy and finance manager

"Not necessarily a souvenir, but I look forward to exploring different chip flavors in foreign supermarkets. Shrimp in Vietnam and Jamón Jamón in Spain come to mind." —Peter Romero, senior account executive

"I always bring salt back from France, and chocolate from any place that isn't the U.S. I'm also a big flavored-chip fan. You have to try all the weird flavors. My favorite is All Dressed from Canada (which I never remember to bring to the office)." —Victoria Maynard, director of finance


Non-Edible Treats

"I like the short steel cooking spoons at Publix in Florida." —Amanda Hesser, co-founder and CEO

"When I’m in Turkey, I like to buy towels and coffee. For a perfect small gift, I like to bring back a nazar boncuğu (eye-shaped amulets believed to protect against the evil eye) to give to people." —Megan Güntaş, digital designer

"I like to get little kitchen gadgets from different places: cooking chopsticks from China; vegetable slicers and stem splitters from Vietnam, are just a few of my favorites." —Victoria Maynard, director of finance

What are your favorite souvenirs to pick up on your travels? Share them with us below!

32 Comments

Noreen F. February 6, 2019
Heck, even when just in a different area in the US I'm checking out the supermarkets!
 
Grazor January 28, 2019
Good to know that I haven't completely lost my mind and that there are other people out there with my foibles, when it comes to taking time out to visit local supermarkets :)<br />
 
Buttons B. January 27, 2019
I’m crazy about grocery bags/totes. My favorite is a a jute bag with a cool print from a Waitrose in Farnham England. I’ve had it for years! I always look for spices and chocolates too!
 
Kusa January 27, 2019
Love reading this! I stock up on deodorants sans aluminum and lip balms in France, as well as salt and dried thyme-I think it’s more flavorful. Stationary from Japan is an absolute must, as well as cleaning brushes and crackers - there are two amazing shops side by side in Kyoto that sell them, and they are the absolute best.
 
Christine S. January 26, 2019
Market shopping on trips is a must for me. There are amazing markets in Seoul, you can get lost for a day Namdaemun & Dongdaemun easily. One thing I never fail to bring home is the Chile paste or dried red peppers. There are people selling their own as well as commercial brands. The dishes or boxes inlaid with mother of pearl are pricey, but I've gotten some lovely unique pieces that qualify as art. I carry home a shameful amount Korean cosmetics that aren't mainstream brands to try out - iUNIK and beauty of Joseon are 2 that were finds for me. Hanbok fabric is lovely for those whom sew. <br />Hawaii items I always get are taro chips, sea salt, and li hing powder, besides the usual suspects of mac nuts in any form. Wasabi, OMG...I am waiting for the day some soul figures out a li hing nut for me. <br />Santa Fe in New Mexico has a really nice farmers market, and I bought many varieties of Chile powder, but I keep buying a mild smoked green chile from one vendor. <br />The one thing that is my holy grail of souvenirs are seeds for my garden. I am helpless when I see a rack of those colorful packets. It has also opened up a surprising amount of dialogue with the locals, both sellers and customers. The korean radish seeds sparked a hot debate at one stall, just over the best variety for radish kimchi. If you ever are near Branson in Missouri, go check out Mansfield farms, home of Baker Creek seeds. The selection is amazing.
 
Kermish L. January 26, 2019
I brought back some great porcini mushroom bullion cubes from Italy and wish I’d brought a dozen more.
 
Teresa January 26, 2019
Yep...and the boxes of cubes will store in freezer forever...easy to find in Italy and easy to transport.
 
Sooz January 26, 2019
I went to a wonderful kitchen store in Paris and got a wisk that has a small ball cage with a metal ball in it. I call it my “Super Wisk”
 
FoodFreak January 26, 2019
I look for wooden spoons and similar utensils and since I am superficial, grocery items in pretty tinsbut I always get something in a pretty tins or jars with pretty labels. Hawaii supermarkets sell great sea salt. I got good dried mushrooms in Helsinki. I now have too much pimenton. White Lily mixes from any supermarket down South are worth space in the luggage too.
 
Peggy F. January 26, 2019
Can we keep this thread going? Someone is always traveling. I just returned from Mexico and found their cream, which says evaporated, to be delicious. I would never use evaporated in my coffee in the U.S. I’m on my way to Arizona so am curious if there are any good ideas there.
 
Heather S. January 27, 2019
There are various places in Arizona that sell Prickly Pear jam or honey. It’s delicious! Also, try some of the different salsas that are made there too. (Mesa Swap Meet)
 
Frances K. January 26, 2019
Black pepper from Borneo.
 
Kimberly S. January 21, 2019
I always bring cleavers back from China. Any brand is great and most are $5. <br /><br />From Northern Ireland I usually bring potato bread back and from Ireland I raid the Avoca store for socks, blankets and cookbooks!
 
Darian January 21, 2019
I always bring back caviar d'aubergine (eggplant spread) from Provence and creme de marrons (chestnut cream) from Corsica. Local honeys are always a big hit too!
 
lolita L. January 20, 2019
Cheese. Lots.
 
mary P. January 19, 2019
I buy King Cole Tea and Red Rose Canadian Breakfast tea whenever I'm in Canada. Also I buy several pounds of butter - any brand but I like Lactancia salted best - whenever I'm there. Canadian butter somehow just tastes better.
 
Rochelle January 28, 2019
Thats funny Mary P. Im Canadian but whenever I am in Paris I buy pounds of the French butter with flakes of Fleur de sel in it. It is the best butter anywhere imo.
 
Marissa January 19, 2019
Anywhere I go, I always get snacks and chocolate just because they have such different flavors from here. Also buy shampoo/conditioner as we don't have these scents available in the US.
 
K B. January 18, 2019
Oregano potato chips in Greece. Purchased on a whim while on a tour there, became completely addicted, can't get them here. :(
 
Jane S. January 16, 2019
In France I buy lip balm, sea salt and grocery store bottles of herbs d’Provence.<br />In Spain I get grocery store paprika and paella seasonings.<br />Mustards of all sorts in Germany. Ginger preserves in the U.K<br />We are going to Ireland soon, any ideas?
 
Author Comment
Hana A. January 17, 2019
All great souvenirs! Our co-worker Megan likes to pick up delicious brown bread at Irish supermarkets. You'll have to report back. :) Have a wonderful trip, Jane!
 
Melissa B. January 18, 2019
There are a myriad of curry sauces. I love the crisps and chocolate. I also usually buy tea and whiskey.
 
Matt H. January 20, 2019
Campbells perfect tea
 
HalfPint January 16, 2019
I always hit the supermarkets for souvenirs and in Europe, I like to go to the pharmacy/drugstores, which sounds odd, but they have pretty cool things at the local chemist. Boots is my favorite drugstore. Love their coconut deep hair conditioner and face soaps. Elsewhere, I like to stock up on fizzy vitamins and toothpaste. Especially enjoyed the fizzy aspirin that I got in Florence.
 
Author Comment
Hana A. January 17, 2019
Omg, how could I forget those fizzy vitamins! Thanks for making me laugh, HalfPint. I also love all those pharmacy/drugstores; did you happen to catch our French pharmacy post last year? https://food52.com/blog/23092-best-french-pharmacy-products-available-on-amazon-2018 In addition to the fun skincare/cosmetics, I just love all the great sandwiches at Boots, ha!
 
vonroach January 16, 2019
I always buy Fleur de Sel from the grocery stores in France. It's only about €3 for 250g<br /><br />A bargain!
 
Author Comment
Hana A. January 17, 2019
Agree, there's always room for fleur de sel in the bag—thanks vonroach!
 
Carlos C. January 16, 2019
This is one of my favorite topics. There are so many basic things I love to get at supermarkets in other countries....or even international markets in the US. In Mexico City, I love to get bottles of Clemente Jacques chile sauces, especially the sweet chipotle. I also get squeeze bottles of La Coronada cajeta, a dulce de leche made from goat's milk. Tortilla presses are also a must-buy in Mexico, and I use them for everything. Clight drink mixes are also amazing for when I am watching my sugar intake. They are made from natural ingredients, have zero net carbs, and come in traditional flavors like hibiscus and horchata. I also make sure to get sal de uvas - little packets of antacid powder that work better than anything in the US. <br /><br />I always make sure someone brings me back traditional candies from Puerto Rico, especially the ones made from coconut.<br /><br />In Lima, I stock up on pisco. I also get lot's bags of manjar blanco (Peruvian-style dulce de leche) for making desserts. I also bring back Andean cheeses like mantecado and paria. You can find them vacuum sealed at supermarkets like Wong and Metro. Rice from Peru is also a must. For some reason, I cannot find good long grain rice here that is no Jasmine. I must look odd at customs with a 2 kilo bag of rice in my luggage.<br /><br />In Pakistan, you HAVE to bring back UHT milk packs, especially from Nurpur. The dairy products in Pakistan - even the shelf stable ones - are so creamy and rich....unlike anything in the US. I also get a-line undershirts called banyans there. They are the most comfortable undershirts I have ever worn. I also get silver leaf covered candied fennel seeds (saunf) to have in a little bowl on my dining table. It looks really fancy at parties<br />
 
Author Comment
Hana A. January 17, 2019
Oh, Carlos! Are we long-lost friends?? You seem like you would be such a fun person to travel with (obviously you know what's important=food). If you ever make it to Niigata prefecture in Japan, make sure to pick up a little sack of rice (truly the best short grain white I've had). And Koreans make a mean undershirt too! Check out "BYC sleeveless undershirt" (https://www.amazon.com/BYC-U-Neck-Cotton-3-Pack-Innerwear/dp/B072LWLM62); we make sure to pick up multiple packets! Thanks so much for sharing your great wealth of travel knowledge, Carlos!
 
Carlos C. January 17, 2019
Hi Hana! Oh the only reason I did not mention Korean products is because I haven't been there yet, but an ever increasing amount of basic home goods in my home come from Korea. I am obsessed with Korean nano gold tooth brushes. They are affordable, and the bristles really clean between my teeth. I also get shower scrubby cloths and Italy towels and mitts all the time. I have a drawer full of them. I will definitely check out the Korean undershirts.<br /><br />Thanks for the tip on rice in Niigata prefecture. I have plans to visit Japan in 2020, and I am sure I will be buying a lot of rice because you cannot seem to get Japanese rice in the US. Also, if you know anyone who is doing a safari in Tanzania, tell them to get local rice from Mto Wa Mbu. They will most likely pass by this village on their way to one of the national parks. You can buy it loose from a street vendor, and it still has little pebbles and stuff in it. You can actually see the paddies when you visit the village. It is one of the best long grain rice varieties I have had.
 
Krista L. January 24, 2019
Supermarket/market items are my favorite thing to bring back from travels, too! Was just in Mexico City for the first time this month and bought a tortilla press--only to have it confiscated at security (so sad, I nearly cried)! Despite extensive time abroad (living and traveling), silly me packed it in my carry on, wanting to protect it and not thinking that something made of solid metal might not fly (literally and figuratively). Hope someone can learn from my mistake and pack your tortilla press in your checked luggage! <3
 
Lucy February 8, 2019
I can't believe they took your tortilla press! Last time I was in the US I bought a cast iron skillet and put that in my hand luggage with no problem.<br /><br />My husband thinks I am seriously weird for my love of foreign supermarkets. Stuff that stands out for me are:<br />baklava from a tiny Bulgarian supermarket<br />rose jam from the same supermarket<br />harissa paste and spices from a huge hypermarket in Marrakech<br />chocolate pretzels from Trader Joes (it makes me really angry that they haven't expanded to the UK! I need those pretzels!)