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The Expat Pantry
February 10, 2014 8:53 AM   Subscribe

I live in Ethiopia, and plan to do some special food shopping while visiting the USA soon. What should I get?

The small school where I work in Addis Ababa provides delicious vegetarian local cuisine at lunchtime. As for other meals, I'm an adventurous and capable cook- injera is delicious, but 6-10x a week is my max. I mainly use a cooktop.

I'd like to stock my pantry in an interesting way while visiting home/San Francisco soon. I already have over two dozen Indian spices and achar/pickle I picked up in India. I would really like to bring back special food items that will last a long time (i.e. you don't use much at once). My tentative list is heavily Asian , but I have no preference. Thank you!

Requirements:
1. not too heavy
2. not too perishable
3. a little goes a long way

Tentative List:
balsamic vinegar (heavy but necessary!)
miso paste
truffle salt
sriracha
hon dashi
kombu
sushi nori
pickled ginger
wasabi
bonito flakes
posted by maya to Food & Drink (8 answers total)
 
My experience of customs generally is that there are many and several rules for taking food through.

My experience of developing African country customs is that they can occasionally take deep interest in what you bring in, and the less obviously explainable something is the higher the risk that you'll be told to ditch it. So if you know the form for Addis Ababa, great. If not, ask around.

Assuming you can get it in, for the expat pantry, I'd bring:

- Spices and condiments, including vinegars
- Speciality alcohol, if that's your thing
- Comfort foods
- Show off/treat foods for entertaining of special days
- Good quality chocolate, assuming it won't melt in transit
- Good quality sea salt and pepper
- A good quality oil
- If you're into Japanese, perhaps some dried mushrooms?

I'm not sure I'd take the wherewithal to make proper dashi unless you really want it and know you'll use it. Rather, I'd be more inclined to stock up on packet dashi, mirin and soy sauce and perhaps rice vinegar and just use that if I wanted to make the basics.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:12 AM on February 10


What I would add to that list:
dried mushrooms
Worcestershire sauce
capers in brine
a wedge of Parmesan (vaccum packed)

Not sure what the customs situation is though - you may want to ask other expats. Would be a shame to bring it all and then have it tossed.

Also - do you travel to (or know people who do) to other parts of Africa at all? If so, there is a decent pan-Asian grocery store in Nairobi (Chinese, Japanese, Thai etc) where you can get get siracha, sushi nori, miso paste, maybe even some of the other items. There is also a WIDE variety of condiments, cheeses, good chocolates, oils and vinegars available in the 2 main supermarket chains (Nakumatt and Uchumi) where you could cover a lot of the other items. Probably not truffle salt though. Something to think about when planning.
posted by darsh at 9:22 AM on February 10


I would add some kind of smoky pepper spice- smoked paprika, urfa biber, or kirmizi biber. Also maybe some furikake, given the asian leanings of the rest of your list.
posted by dizziest at 9:39 AM on February 10


Bonito flakes will take up a ton of space in your luggage and you use them up VERY quickly. I agree with MuffinMan to use instant dashi packets.

Other ideas:
Dutch process cocoa powder (easier to transport)
Chile in adobo or maybe dried chiles - Mexican food can be thin on the ground (I don't know about Africa....).
Maybe Thai curry paste?
posted by chocotaco at 9:52 AM on February 10


Tea
Tamarind
posted by aniola at 10:00 AM on February 10


Kikkoman soy sauce in a plastic, not glass, bottle.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 10:26 AM on February 10


Thai curry paste, the ones in the plastic tubs. They last forever in my experience.
posted by cabingirl at 12:35 PM on February 10


Thanks so much! In my experience, the only thing customs cares about: electronics. I've brought plenty of food in (just not from the bountiful US), as have my friends. I appreciate the heads up on bonito flakes and dashi as I have never purchased them before.

Tea is a great idea, since the best stuff is exported. There are some great shops here, but the prices are sometimes ridiculous (imported bran flakes, $10).

Yay, capers, thai curry paste, parmesan, dried mushrooms, etc...
posted by maya at 10:07 PM on February 10


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