Cheap, portable, legal-to-cross-an-ocean food from TJs
August 15, 2009 3:47 PM   Subscribe

My mother is coming to visit me in Poland from our home in California and has asked me what foods she can bring me from Trader Joe's that are worth her bringing over. I have some ideas, but as I've been away so long (over a year), I want to make sure we land at the intersection of still-in-the-storeness, luggage space allowance, practicality and deliciousness.

In fact, she has kindly but firmly requested I produce a list! For Christmas last year, I got a hamper of UHT mole sauce, a few bottles of Tapatio/Cholula, some random Mexican dry spices, and a bunch of TJs sweets/cookies. It was great.

While the quality of "raw" food here is amazing, prepared/regional/fancier ingredients which cost a bit more, like real maple syrup or balsamic vinegar, etc., are much harder to find and often severely lack in quality unless one buys, say, a tiny $50 bottle of the stuff.

We're on a budget of not-crazy. Total cost of this little excursion should be under $40 for me to have a good conscience. I also don't have a TJs in front of me to see what things actually cost. And lighter is better.

She's checking a bag, so liquids are cool. Fresh food is out given agriculture restrictions and the total door-to-door length of her journey (about 24 hours).

As a final note, the mdonley kitchen trends Mediterranean generally, with Latin, Indian, and Southeast Asian flavors popping up when cost and ingredients align. And I love Thanksgiving.

My future dinner guests and I thank you!
posted by mdonley to Food & Drink (33 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
We absolutely love the Arribiatta pasta sauce. It's actually better without meat, and gies really well on bowtie, penne, or fusilli pasta. Also, chocolate Cats cookies. Cheap, delicious, highy addictive, and not all that bad for you either. So altogether there went five bucks from your forty.

Trader Joes care packages are the best.
posted by azpenguin at 3:54 PM on August 15, 2009

My favorite thing at Trader Joe's are their molasses cookies. Have her bring some of them.
posted by ocherdraco at 4:34 PM on August 15, 2009

I would probably ask for one of those smallish jars of sun-dried tomatoes, the yellow curry sauce in a bottle, and the tomato-based "masala simmer sauce" in a jar. They are all compact and make food tasty.
posted by dreamyshade at 4:43 PM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I love the Truffle Brownie boxed mix, and I second the recommendation for the tub of Chocolate Cat Cookies. I'm also partial to the Chocolate Covered Blueberries. (Am I sensing a theme here?)
posted by bookmammal at 4:47 PM on August 15, 2009

I would probably ask for Trader Joe's whole wheat couscous...I'm not sure what it is about it, but I think its better than any other couscous.
posted by mjcon at 5:04 PM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

They've got several varieties of tasty meringues. The packages are kind of bulky, but they hardly weigh anything.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:04 PM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Last winter in Berlin a friend brought two boxes of Good Earth sweet, spicy herbal tea from TJs and it helped me get through the cold dark nights. Love that stuff.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 5:04 PM on August 15, 2009

I'm addicted to the creamed honey, mostly for the spreadability. If you're missing Asian ethnic flavors, they've been adding a lot of selections to their prepared shelf-stable meals, but the curry simmer sauce jars may be better if you want something to cook with. They have a brand new soft dried mango which I love, and I always grab the dried lychee when they have it (rarely at ours). They've started carrying quinoa if you're into that :-). Canadians have spoken fondly of their new maple leaf shaped sandwich cookies, which are fun. And I never buy their raspberry or orange jelly sticks coated in chocolate because I seriously will finish the entire container in one sitting.

These links may help, though a lot of the items in here are fresh or frozen:

Northern California Guide Summer 2009

Southern California "

And the fan site if you don't know about it already.
posted by girlhacker at 5:12 PM on August 15, 2009

The Toronto Chowhound dinner group runs an underground railroad of Trader Joe's sesame almonds into Canada. Any one of us that gets within about 50 miles of a TJs is pretty much obligated to bring back at least 4 bags, more if space permits, to fulfilltemporarily appease the needs of the local fans.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:16 PM on August 15, 2009

Trader Joe's Kettle Corn. The bag is pink and white striped. I love it so much. I buy it and then it calls me until I give in and come eat it up. Also, their Salsa Autentica (that's how they spell it). It's medium hot, and great on tacos, with chips, and for baking enchiladas.
posted by Kangaroo at 5:19 PM on August 15, 2009

Peanut Butter Filled Pretzels. Oh, yeah.
posted by Etaoin Shrdlu at 5:29 PM on August 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Seconding the deliciousness of the molasses cookies. Also notable are a variety of jarred simmer sauces available. There is green curry, masala, and a host of others and they are all delightful.

Around Christmas time they have a gingerbread mix that is SO GOOD. I wish I had bought a case and stored it for the rest of the year.
posted by Edubya at 5:38 PM on August 15, 2009

Something newish they've got that I'm pretty crazy about is chile-spiced dried (soft) pineapple. It's so good with beer.

They have an own-brand version of Annie's Goddess dressing that is pretty close to the original. If you've never had it, it's a kind of tangy, sourish tahini-based dressing that is great on spicy greens and makes a kind of interesting dip for pear or apple slices, too.

Virgil's Root Beer? Root beer seems to blow non-American minds, it might be fun to try it on your friends.
posted by padraigin at 5:45 PM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Whoa, looks like AskMe loves TJs! Momdonley will be shopping in Southern California - didn't realize product lines might be different!

Additional Brainwave 1: what's the truffle oil like, if they still carry it? It seems well-reviewed online despite its chemistry-lab origins (which I have nothing against if it's tasty, mind you!).

Additional Brainwave 2: other ingredient-type things?
posted by mdonley at 5:50 PM on August 15, 2009

Sorry to jump off the TJ's bandwagon but I just wanted to say that my dear friend in Poland loves Oreo cookies.
posted by ellenaim at 6:03 PM on August 15, 2009

I'm hooked on the Harvest Grains Israeli couscous/orzo/lentil blend - takes 10 minutes and feels fancy, and I haven't found anything comparable elsewhere.
posted by zepheria at 6:06 PM on August 15, 2009

Sorry to jump off the TJ's bandwagon but I just wanted to say that my dear friend in Poland loves Oreo cookies.

I'll jump back on and say that Jo-Jo's, TJ's version of the sandwich cookie, are pretty good. But you might want to get your mom to just ship you the Peppermint Jojos they only have during the winter holidays.

The TJ's where I shop in Northern California no longer carries truffle oil.

They do have a nifty chili oil, which is great on Asian style food.

I also really like their jarred aioli, which is really more like a mustard. We love it with steak and fries, or on hot sandwiches. The wasabi mayo is pretty popular, although I don't feel like it's quite wasabi-enough.
posted by padraigin at 6:10 PM on August 15, 2009

I love their wasabi peas to snack on.
posted by questionsandanchors at 6:21 PM on August 15, 2009

Their cake mixes! My friend gets her dad to send her the chocolate-orange cake mix and sometimes she makes it for me and omg I love her so much when she does and I nom it down with a quickness.

Man I miss Trader Joe's.
posted by Neofelis at 6:54 PM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Grade B maple syrup (darker, more maple-y)

shelf-stable Indian meals (the channa masala is especially good), which I think would be easy to carry on a plane

whole-wheat couscous

dark chocolate bars

any of their tapenades or red pepper- or eggplant-based spreads
posted by palliser at 6:55 PM on August 15, 2009

Man, do I enjoy TJ's flaxseed tortilla chips. Perhaps you can, too!
posted by thejoshu at 6:58 PM on August 15, 2009

I've been really happy with their muffin/bread mixes. I don't know if it's too early for pumpkin to be on the shelf, but that's probably my favorite of them all.

They usually have one or two types of flavored pistachios. I think the currently available variety is habanero. All are great, though.

Probably not the most efficient use of space, but: chocolate chip dunkers...definitely the kind with the chocolate on the bottom side.
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:59 PM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Guacamole. The E=GuacaSalsa and/or Avocado's Number varieties are probably packed better for travel than the kind that comes in a tub.
Blue corn chips, too.
posted by willpie at 7:38 PM on August 15, 2009

I like the cornbread mix, which has bits of corn in it. It's sweet, northern style cornbread. I also really like the peach salsa.

Also, the sweet and spicy pecans are delicious. I like to add them to salads.
posted by cabingirl at 8:26 PM on August 15, 2009

I can eat a whole bag of their dark chocolate covered flat pretzels in one sitting. I find a lot of their sweets to be meh but these are to die for.
posted by lannanh at 8:38 PM on August 15, 2009

The smoky peach salsa is the bomb. Also the jalapeno refried black beans (trader joe label)
posted by Chele66 at 9:39 PM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Embarrassing to say this, but I've been living off a steady supply of TJ's brand of Cheerios from kind friends who have brought them over to Beijing for me. I will accept no substitutes!

Also I love their orange flavoured cranberries and tamari almonds even though they are a bit pricey.

I <3 TJs!
posted by so much modern time at 9:45 PM on August 15, 2009

Mrs. mmascolino goes seriously crazy for their pumpkin butter but that is only seasonally available. Maple syrup seems like a great idea since it is hard and expensive for you to get.
posted by mmascolino at 9:45 PM on August 15, 2009

Their pita chips are one of my absolute favorite snacks. I'm also echoing the suggestion of meringues... I don't think I have ever seen meringues anywhere else, but I never leave a TJ's without them.
posted by so_gracefully at 9:56 PM on August 15, 2009

When we stayed at a B&B in Hawaii our hostess asked us to bring a case of TJ's peach sauce.
It's great stuff.

Also, the pound plus milk chocolate bar is some of the highest rated stuff in Los Angeles.

And the chocolate covered almonds are wonderful.
posted by SLC Mom at 10:48 PM on August 15, 2009

Trader Joe's pesto filled tortellini (dried, packaged pasta). SO GOOD. Cook, toss with some steamed or lightly stir-fried vegetables, some olive oil, and that them thar's a pretty damn good meal. The tortellini's travel well, and are not very expensive.
posted by raztaj at 4:26 PM on August 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Cinnamon graham crackers!
posted by BigVACub at 5:33 PM on August 16, 2009

Cherry Granola Cookies
Chili Spiced Mango Slices
posted by pghjezebel at 8:50 AM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

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