Given globalization, what are the very best souvenirs to bring back from abroad?
March 24, 2011 9:59 AM   Subscribe

What are the very best things to bring back as souvenirs from outside the U.S.? It seems that the things I used to request from traveling friends (Petit Bateu shirts from Paris, weird candy from Japan, Elnett hairspray from Europe in general, etc.) are now just as easy to get in the U.S. as they are elsewhere, thanks to the internet/globalization/changing FDA regulations. But surely there must still be amazing things out there that are impossible to find stateside (or in the case of cosmetics, not FDA approved). What are they?
posted by hels to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Kinder Surprise eggs? Might cause Customs issue though.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 10:02 AM on March 24, 2011

candy from the UK. black current starbursts are so freaking good.
posted by nadawi at 10:08 AM on March 24, 2011

Best answer: Sunscreen from Europe
posted by true at 10:17 AM on March 24, 2011

Kinder Surprise eggs? Might cause Customs issue though.

If customs finds these they will confiscate them and you can get fined up to $300 for trying to bring them in. No joke.

Anyhow, I'm always looking for alcohol that I can't get in the states. I've had friends bring in various absinthes, whiskeys, aquavits, screech, sakes, etc.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:21 AM on March 24, 2011

I still remember the awesome unpasteurized French cheese brought to our office by one of our European sales reps. Not sure how he managed to bring it over, but it was great.

And speaking of the UK, they are decades ahead of the US in crisps technology--a pack of unusual-for-the-States flavors would probably go over well and wouldn't require refrigeration.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:31 AM on March 24, 2011

I can buy Kinder Surprise eggs right in Portland and a UK imports store in Freeport has all sorts of unusual (to me!) candy. I'd still say consumables are a good choice.
posted by mikepop at 10:33 AM on March 24, 2011

Local arts and crafts.
posted by mollymayhem at 10:39 AM on March 24, 2011

There's a whole thread about medicine you can get over the counter in Canada but not in the US here.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 10:44 AM on March 24, 2011

Response by poster: Kinder Surprise eggs? Might cause Customs issue though.

I should probably have clarified in my question that I live in New York - so things like Kinder Surprise eggs (which were such a novelty when I visited France as a 13-year-old midwesterner!) are available in almost every corner deli.

Local arts and crafts.

Can you be more specific as to crafts and countries? Pottery in Portugal, etc.? (But again, I'm specifically looking for things that I can't buy/order in the U.S.)

Maybe there really is nothing left, except sunscreens, cosmetics, and over-the-counter drugs?
posted by hels at 11:10 AM on March 24, 2011

Best answer: When I travel, I buy vintage items for everyday use - my sunglasses are from Amsterdam, my handbag is from Italy, etc. I've also bought old tiles at flea markets and such. It's nice to have objects with stories. There are also small-batch artisanal things that will are never exported - the store in Turin that makes exquisite candied herbs, etc. Part of the fun of travel is making these tiny discoveries.
posted by judith at 11:19 AM on March 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

Scandanavian candies with salmiak (ammonium chloride). I'm not talking about the double-salt diamonds or cats that will blow your palate to hell, I'm talking about a more subtle use of the stuff--you'll find it in a lot of half-gummi, half-licorice candy. It's a brilliant, salty/sweet/aromatic combination, and you can't really get those candies in the US.
posted by yellowcandy at 11:20 AM on March 24, 2011

Best answer: Bernachon chocolate bars

Real Zubrowka

Any number of regional liquers. One of my favorites, Eduardino in Lisbon prides itself on not being available anywhere else.
posted by vacapinta at 11:35 AM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

My mother went on a mission trip to Oaxaca and brought back some barro negro pottery and it is gorgeous. I've never seen it in the US, or available online.
posted by specialagentwebb at 11:49 AM on March 24, 2011

Maybe there really is nothing left, except sunscreens, cosmetics, and over-the-counter drugs?

This question has a lot of the Confirmation Bias going for it. It appears you can get everything because you can get everything you know about.

There's hundreds of thousands of small artisans, food-makers, craftsmen, woodworkers, potters, wine makers etc. making very small batches eaten up quickly by locals. And they don't ship anywhere. Discovering some of these things takes a lot of patience and time.

One of my favorite things in the Universe are hand-made sausages from the Alentejo region of Portugal. They are impossible to get outside of Portugal. Probably even illegal to ship because they violate all sorts of food laws. Likewise there are small wineries all over France, Italy, Spain and Portugal that make only tiny batches. And you can't get them in the US unless they happen to have been discovered by some distributor.

If I could possibly wrap them well enough, these kinds of things would be the first souvenirs in my luggage.
posted by vacapinta at 12:03 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Dietorelle candy! I buy tons whenever I go to Europe. (If anyone knows where to find these in the US, please memail me!)
posted by parakeetdog at 12:40 PM on March 24, 2011

I second the idea of crisps (chips) from the UK. I have never seen the same variety of flavours anywhere else. British High Street fashion is also not done as well/cheaply elsewhere (except that new Topshop in NY). Also, do you get Irn-Bru?
posted by plonkee at 1:05 PM on March 24, 2011

Japan: popin' cookin' jelly sushi kit.
posted by you're a kitty! at 1:29 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Likewise there are small wineries all over France, Italy, Spain and Portugal that make only tiny batches.

Or the cheese van I encountered at a small market in the south of France that had about three dozen different cheeses.

The US is sufficiently diverse that the most sought-after non-perishables (or FDA-approved perishables) do get imported for expat communities, but not always, and not always the best varieties -- and as judith says, the small-batch things have to be found where they're made. For instance, you'll find some of the best French or Japanese stationery imported, but not the range and experience of a French or Japanese stationery shop.
posted by holgate at 3:09 PM on March 24, 2011

I always ask traveling friends to bring me back the weirdest snack food they can find. As long as it's packaged, it should be able to go through customs.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:30 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Favorites I've gotten or given:
- Castella cake from Kyushu (there is castella at Mitsuwa, but not like that)
- An umbrella from an art museum
- Curry ramune and takoyaki ramune (I've seen these once, at an anime convention, in the US)
- Special Korean teas
- Korean lacquer boxes
- A Japanese puzzle box
- Tokyo Banana
- A hand-picked omamori from a temple
- Two exquisite handmade lacquer drinking cups from Japan
- A vintage bubblegum machine anime collectible (vintage ones/things from unpopular-with-Americans series aren't easy to find here, but it was only $1 there)
- A handkerchief from the Palace Museum in Taipei, practical for anyone in a warm climate and featuring a clever use of a pattern from some of their beautiful blue-and-white porcelain--only sold there
- A build-your-own-Japanese-toy-archer automaton kit -- I didn't buy it as it was a little expensive. I later saw it in a Japanese bookstore in the US for $150, a lot more than it was in Japan. I'm still kicking myself. There are a bunch of slightly high-end things like this in Japan that are not regularly exported to the US.

There are also tons of regional crafts like kiriko in Japan that are pretty rare in the US.

Vintage items are great if you know your friends (or I guess, if they know you, in this case). In Japan, there are places like Yellow Submarine stores and temple flea markets.
posted by wintersweet at 3:56 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

St. Martin - Guavaberry Liquer/Rum

On our last Caribbean vacation, we picked up a bottle for the most amazing drink -- Guavaberry Coladas. We served them at a party, and they were a complete hit.

I thought I'd be able to get some more online, but, alas, no such luck. I guess I'll just have to go back down to St. Martin to get some more *sigh*.
posted by Kronur at 4:13 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

silk scarves from vietnam
locally woven fabrics/wall hangings from laos
teak woodworking southeast asia in general

you could probably get most of that stuff in the US, but it was almost free to buy in those countries.

the best thing i picked up though was marble pieces inlaid with precious stones from Agra, India -- i got it from a reputable dealer, so it was expensive, but totally amazing.
posted by nanhey at 4:55 PM on March 24, 2011

Jelly. Seriously. US jelly selection just does not measure up.
posted by Dick Paris at 6:27 PM on March 24, 2011

Veggiemite. Or else, if you do know where to find it in NYC, please tell me!
posted by Salamandrous at 10:50 AM on March 25, 2011

@Salamandrous: I believe Vegemite can be found at Tuck Shop or Myers of Keswick.
posted by kathryn at 1:51 PM on March 26, 2011

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