What specialty food items should I bring back from Paris and London?
April 12, 2012 10:28 PM   Subscribe

What specialty food items should I bring back from Paris and London? I am traveling to both places in May. Can you recommend some unique and delicious food items I can bring back with me? (Any other travel recommendations are welcome as well!)
posted by thelastgirl to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
This depends on what you are trying to do and what you like. Are you looking for oddball items to scare your friends or delicious desserts?

A few ideas -- London: Welsh cakes, treacle tarts, and Chelsea buns. Paris: I'd recommend reading The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz for lots of ideas and lists of patisseries, some listed here.
posted by benzenedream at 11:14 PM on April 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Check what you can bring back through Customs. The list changes.
posted by Ardiril at 11:18 PM on April 12, 2012

My personal choices:

• Tunnock's Tea Cakes
• Tunnock's Caramel Wafers
• North Staffordshire Oat Cakes

• Speculoos Pâte à tartiner (sweet cookie spread in a peanut-butter jar) (shelved near nutella)
• Prunes
• From Poilâne bakery: Punitions. Maybe a brioche loaf to freeze at home
• 1-2 best baguettes, to cut into thirds and freeze once you get them home (cfr. David Lebovitz).
• Some form of foie gras
• Some unfamiliar cheeses from a fromager (see https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/82/kw/importing%20cheeses, customs is not as scary as people seem to think).
posted by xueexueg at 11:22 PM on April 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

marmalades from london (in a variety of citrus). yes, pâté from paris—and the french must put crack in their butter bc it's the best i have ever had. i mean, it's insanely delicious.
posted by violetk at 12:12 AM on April 13, 2012

Macarons from Ladurée.
posted by neushoorn at 12:16 AM on April 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

This is just for Paris:

Macaroons at Laduree. I know there is a shop in New York City now, but nothing beats getting them in Paris. There is a cart and shop at the airport, so you can get some there on your way out, so no need to carry them around.

Herbs, If you love to cook Bouquet de garni. These bundles of herbs are harder to find in the U.S.

Chocolate, my favorites are Richart, Maison du chocolat and Patrik Roger.

As mentioned above reading from David Lebovitz can give you some great suggestions.

posted by i_wear_boots at 12:21 AM on April 13, 2012

Seconding David Lebovitz, go to http://www.davidlebovitz.com/faq/ and down to "vacationing in Paris" -- that will tell you a lot!
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 12:30 AM on April 13, 2012

Pfft. Fromagiers, indeed. Try some unfamiliar cheeses from a cheese shop.
Some jellied eels
And a pork pie.
posted by ComfySofa at 2:12 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I say skip Laduree and get your macarons at Pierre Herme. They don't have a US location.

Also, caramels that are completely impossible to believe at Jacques Genin.
posted by dayintoday at 4:15 AM on April 13, 2012

Even the macaroons in the Carrefour supermarket in Paris are lovely.

Is Marmite too obvious? According to Augusten Burroughs, we have bizarre crisp flavours here in London too. I'm pretty sure you can't take meat back to the US, but you could try and track down some vegetarian haggis, which tastes very much like the real thing. I'd recommend going to the John Lewis department store on Oxford St and looking round the supermarket in their basement - unlike Selfridges Food Hall, which is lovely but really expensive, the JL one is a branch of their sister supermarket chain Waitrose which is reknowned for good quality food. I'd have a look there and pick out anything that looks interesting or unusual. (I tend to do this when abroad in whichever local supermarket I'm near.)
posted by mippy at 4:30 AM on April 13, 2012

Do you like biscuits / cookies? If so, you can easily find them in any supermarket (Carrefour, Monoprix...). I'd suggest Petit LU biscuits, and also Galettes du Mont Saint-Michel.
Seconding caramels, and more specifically caramels au beurre salé (caramel with salt butter).
I think France can't live without butter nor crème fraîche. Buy "Beurre de Bretagne" and "crème fraîche d'Isigny". They are the most tasteful IMHO.
France has approximatively 400 different kind of cheese. If you want a general idea of the variety of cheese, I would go for Comté, Reblochon, and Camembert first. They're not too strong, but pretty smelly ;) Buy them at a fromager, not in a supermarket where they would be wrapped in plastic.
I'm won't suggest you baguette : the lifespan of a baguette is of 12 hours. After this, the baguette is just good for the toaster.
Do you like charcuterie? (culin). If yes, try some saucisse sèche (avoid "justin bridou" brand!), you can buy them either in the supermarket or at a boucher / charcutier (butcher shop). Saucisse sèche doesn't need to be stored in the fridge, which is pretty convenient if you're travelling. And french ham has nothing to do with bacon. Ask some "jambon à l'os", you won't regret it.
Oh, I forgot : la Grande épicerie is a wonderful place to buy high quality food. And I believe they have a fromager and a boucher- charcutier. It is situated in the 7th disctrict of Paris.
Happy travel!
posted by OrangeCat at 4:35 AM on April 13, 2012

I forgot dessert: Jaffa Cakes
posted by ComfySofa at 4:56 AM on April 13, 2012

Depends where you live – almost all the prepackaged British foods mentioned in this thread so far are available at my local branch of Fairway in NYC. So my priority, customs permitting, would be the perishable pork pie/chelsea bun stuff.
posted by oliverburkeman at 6:08 AM on April 13, 2012

Personally, the two things I like best from Paris are (1) Mariage Freres teas -- if you like tea at all, it's worth a trip to their store to sniff and/or try a few, although their French Breakfast might be one of the best teas ever (and I have several dozen on hand at any time). They have a pricey but delicious tea parlor upstairs that is a nice respite too. (2) Wines -- there are so many good ones available so cheaply, and you can bring a couple of bottles without penalty, so definitely do! Plus, an excuse to do a lot of tasting! :)

London, I'm less sure, but if you've never had Branston Pickle (a condiment as ubiquitous there as Heines ketchup is in the US, but closer to chutney), it's a cheap and delicious discovery. More from the grocery than from a specialty market, but I've never met anybody who didn't like it on *something* (if not everything).
posted by acm at 6:35 AM on April 13, 2012

Another Paris chocolate option: Michel Cluizel. 201 rue Saint Honore. I know there is a location in New York City, but the chocolate barks were out of this world.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 7:08 AM on April 13, 2012

I really don't think you can take any British meat products to the US. Thanks to BSE, you can't even donate blood there if you lived in Britain for three months or longer during the 1980s-mid'90s.
posted by mippy at 7:18 AM on April 13, 2012

Yep, no meat for you!
posted by mippy at 7:21 AM on April 13, 2012

In my view Gentleman's Relish is the most English of foods. If you get a ridiculously expensive china puck from Fortnum's or somesuch you can refill it with fake Gentleman's Relish when you run out and never feel less than bracingly English.

It is an anchovy-based paste served spread thinly on hot-buttered toast. There is the first thing about it: hot toast is specified. Cold toast is a thing in the UK. That's why there are toast racks: to serve crisp but cold toast. Cold toast is a fine thing preferable to bread, because in the morning, bread is stale. You couldn't eat it or go out before breakfast, could you? Also, because by the time toast gets to the table it can either be cold or soggy. Cold but crisp is better.

Hot toast, then, is a treat. And English treats can be lashings-of-things, but are more often tiny hints of indulgence. And that's the second thing: when you feel indulgent enough to treat yourself to hot toast, a brisk streak of Gentleman's Relish will enhance things in a way that is both austere and luxurious. It's the sort of informal slight naughtiness you can go for when you feel able to eat close to the toaster after the servants have gone home. Lacking servants, I usually have it for breakfast.

If you like the stuff, you'll run out quickly. It's not available in Australia and in any case it's crazily expensive for what it is even if you do buy in the sad plastic "tin" instead of the Empire-redolent china one. So you can refill it with fake. The recipe is SECRET and probably contains other things such as gestures towards spices. But you can get awfully close with five parts anchovy paste - the sort Continental chaps squeeze on pizza - and three parts butter. And that's the third thing: butter (slight return).
posted by hawthorne at 8:19 AM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Fleur de Sel, the French sea salt--bring back a suitcase full! Just a pinch on top of steak or any dishes you prepare at home adds so much to the flavor. You can use it to make your own salted caramels, aka crack. Bring back salted caramels from some great confiserie to hold you until you get home and can make your own. David Liebowicz's salted brownies started the brownies craze in France. You can get fleur de sel at any Monoprix--look for the Camargue brand in a small cardboard container with a very pretty label. (I know, I know you can get it on Amazon, too.)

Other lasting things I've stashed:

--a small canned fois gras to transport myself back to France via taste memory. (You can't bring back fresh fois gras.)
--fig preserves
--different Maille mustards you can't get here (Fauchon and Hediard have many delectables to bring home)
--many dark chocolate bars. Try different ones while you're there then stock up. Monoprix has fantastic dark chocolate bars to try then pack.

Some of the most delectable French goodies--baguette, macarons, cheese--have the life span of a Mayfly and get smooshed on the flight. You look at them the next day as you unpack, and they just make you realize your trip is over.
posted by Elsie at 9:13 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ooooo - my mouth waters for Battenberg cake from the UK on a daily basis. Certainly not fancy; grab it at Sainsbury or wherever, but those little pink and white squares or sponge cake wrapped in marzipan - SO WONDERFUL! And definitely not available stateside.
posted by MediaMer at 10:11 AM on April 13, 2012

Be sure to visit the food emporium known as Le Bon Marche.

A unique French treat is Bergamote de Nancy candies. Yum!
posted by rumbles at 1:23 PM on April 13, 2012

Veal bouillon is great for cooking and will last you a while; also it's light. Monoprix chocolate is an excellent suggestion. Their dark chocolate bars, specifically made for baking, are cheap and quite good. Lentils from Puy are fantastic, and different than the standard lentils you get in the US. Seconding sea salt. You can get bags for not too much in Monoprix. And I always bring back tins of cassoulet and duck or goose confit, but this could be a weight issue for you (I go to Paris on the train). Most wine shops will have styrofoam boxes for your bottles which you can just pack right into your suitcases.
posted by tractorfeed at 6:58 PM on April 13, 2012

Seconding Branston Pickle, which you can get at any supermarket in the UK. It's a little hidden treasure that people don't seem to know about - so good on a nice sharp cheddar.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:59 PM on April 13, 2012

Bring back salted caramels from some great confiserie to hold you until you get home and can make your own.
the very best place to buy them is at L'Etoile d'Or per David Lebovitz. After going there and tasting them I was hooked. Plus the owner is a trip. It's at 30, rue Fontaine (9th)
Métro: Blanche.

Watch this video to get a preview of what it's like.
posted by la petite marie at 4:15 PM on April 14, 2012

Seconding Mariage Freres tea in a huge way (they have some teas in the shops there that you can't get easily from the importers in the states), and you might want to keep an eye peeled in Paris for marrons glace, chestnuts soaked in a vanilla sugar syrup for a few days and then wrapped. They show up mostly in fall/winter, but I've found them after the season in shops like Maison du Chocolat.

And if pickle doesn't sell you, you can always pick up a canned spotted dick in England. Terrible tasting, but fun to show friends at home.
posted by emcat8 at 11:21 PM on April 14, 2012

also, I forgot marzipan! I grew up thinking I didn't like it, but one taste of the Real Stuff in France made me realize how foolish I was!
posted by acm at 6:10 AM on April 16, 2012

Roll with Lebovitz on what he recommends bringing back from France. I have found a lot of British products in the US so be sure about what is truly rare. My suggestions are rare honeys from both nations which can last quite awhile. Another thing that I found somewhat difficult to acquire in the US is chestnut spread of decent quality. Since the Chestnut tree blight of decades ago chestnuts are not that common except during the holidays.

A lot of things listed are lovely fresh such as, bread and butter, pastries and a properly treated cheese. Think about storage and long term care in your luggage. Happy eating.
posted by jadepearl at 6:03 PM on April 16, 2012

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