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What food souvenirs have you brought back from your holiday?

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Sudi Pigott Sudi Pigott | 09:15 UK time, Thursday, 1 September 2011

There's only one foolproof way of eeking the maximum out of a treasured and transient summer holiday: bring back the maximum stash of foodie-centric souvenirs from your holidays and revel in cooking with them. It’s the perfect excuse for re-living the culinary highlights of your hols.

Almonds

Almonds for every course?

A word of caution though: many years ago, after an idyllic holiday in Majorca, I was completely besotted by the infinite versatility of cooking with almonds. So I decided to throw a dinner party serving Majorcan almonds for every course: white almond and garlic gazpacho; chicken with tomato and almond sauce; almond and orange cake with almond ice cream. I thought it was a triumph, my guests decided I was obsessive, got bored by almonds starring throughout the dinner and have teased me ever since.

Lucques olives from Provence

Lucques olives from Provence


So as with most things in life, moderation is all. My haul this year has included fantastic, thick, plump anchovies from Collioure in South West France that are so delicious it is a shame to cook them. Instead, I've draped them over devilled eggs, added them to salade niçoise or buffalo mozzarella and tomato salad, and served them pincho-style on cocktail sticks with some equally wonderful provençal lucques olives and a chilled glass of rosé.

From Gouda in The Netherlands, I brought home a mini-round of aged Gouda cheese with a robust earthiness unlike anything I've bought in the UK and great waffle biscuits. I'm greedily anticipating my trip to Parma for their annual Festival del Prosciutto di Parma and will be sure to take a suitcase ample enough to bring back an outrageously large hunk of two-year-old Parmigiano Reggiano and (vacuum-packed) sweet, nutty Parma ham for serving with extravagant abandon.

An absolute must from Spain is saffron, always strands and never powder (which is frankly of horribly inferior quality). Look for saffron of consistent colour throughout in a sealed box: the best will be labelled from La Mancha. It has infinite uses beyond paella and is fantastic in custard, ice cream and shortbread.

Spices are the best, safest (and most compact) way of recapturing what's quintessential about many holiday destinations.  From Morocco return with ras-el-hanout, which translates as “top of the shop”. It’s a mixture of the very best spices - always including cardamom, cumin, coriander, chilli and up to fifty or more other spices. Watch where locals are buying from and don't be embarrassed to sniff it to ensure it is aromatic - and be wary of anything too cheap. Elsewhere Baharat from Turkey (made with allspice, cardamom, cassia bark, cumin and dried chilli) is great for rubbing into lamb or chicken. 

Unusual condiments travel well too. Kaya, a kind of coconut jam, from Singapore is great on pancakes with fruit and maple syrup. Although dulce con leche from Mexico is increasingly available in the UK, it's always pleasing to have something more authentic.

Whether you’ve opted for a staycation this year, or you’ve been jetting off around the world all summer, what’s the most exciting treat you’ve sampled from your travels, or indeed your colleagues’ or friends’ travels? Is there anything you regret bringing back?

Sudi Pigott is a food and travel writer.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    We always try to bring back something to eat (or, more usually, to drink) from our holidays. Regulars are Ouzo and vacuum packed olives from the Greek Islands, Kirsch and chocolate from Switzerland and of course, cheese from France. The nicest thing I ever brought back from France was some tapenade I bought at an olive festival in Mouries, Provence. It was so good. This year we brought back Limoncello from the Amalfi Coast which is really delicious and must be up there with my favourites! I've never brought back anything I didn't want as I would have sampled it before buying it to take home.

  • Comment number 2.

    This year we went to Spain and brought back four tins of pimenton (two sweet, two hot); a big jar of saffron; some squid ink; the spice mix for Andalusian pinchos (kebabs) and a range of dried peppers. I've no idea what we're going to do with the squid ink but I've never seen it before and had to have it.

  • Comment number 3.

    I used to love bringing back spices and food from abroad. Nothing better than strolling over a north african market and being able to buy spices in bulk. Only problem is, when you get home, they can give birth to an amazing variety of small insects, some beetles still live in my former flat as they seemed to be indestructible. Never again!

  • Comment number 4.

    From Spain I brought back smoked paprika, saffron, (and colourante for paella). From Turkey cardomen powder (so much cheaper than here), kebab meat seasoning, lemon rock salt and flat round pitta bread which are much better than the stuff we can only buy in this country. Fresh figs from my Nana's trees, Chestnut flour from Italy which makes lovely little pancakes when filled with ricotta and white honey. Also both smoked garlic and mozzarella. From the States many of Paul Prudhommes seasonings. From the one dollar shops, this time of year, they have all of the hallo'een nick nacks which are much cheaper and better than what we get over here.

    Photovoltage. The squid ink makes great squid paella and black homemade pasta.

  • Comment number 5.

    From Crete we brought back the most amazing olive oil, which was sold in plastic bottles at a road-side stand. We also bought wonderful honey and dried oregano here. I love buying honey, as it tends to have such a distinct 'local' small, depending on the mix of flowers and plants in the area. From the US I've brought maple syrup, from France sausages, mayonaise and delicious desserts from the supermarket (profiteroles, iles flotantes).

  • Comment number 6.

    We always bring back food or drink from our travels. Maple syrup and bagels from Vancouver, parmesan, limoncello and gnocchi from Italy (the latter was a bit squashed as we bought it freshly made the morning we flew home), lemon cheese and honey from Snowdonia, tins of pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie spices from the USA and bags of fried/salted corn kernels from Peru. Oh and Veda bread whenever we go to N. Ireland!

  • Comment number 7.

    I love bringing home treats from my holidays. I did a cooking course in Florence this year and part of the day was spent in the indoor market where there were so many gorgeous food stalls. I spent quite a bit on the olive oils and balsamic’. Top tip: ask the seller to vacuum pack your purchasers for you; even if it is an oil, it's a great way of ensuring that any breakages in your suitcase don't leak onto your clothes.

  • Comment number 8.

    Just a couple of minor points really from someone who is resident in Marrakech, Morocco. Ras el hanout means "head" of the shop, referring to the person who chooses the particular mix of spices and herbs, condiments and other ingredients that compose the melange. It would be very rare to find 50+ ingredients; 25 is even pushing it! Here are the main ingredients: rosebuds, orrisroot, belladonna berries, cinnamon, Chinese cinnamon (dar el Sini ed dun), green and black cardamoms, cloves, kebala (cubebe) – a West African black pepper, turmeric, galangal, root ginger, lavender (khuzama), almond husk, ginger seeds, black cumin seeds, chilli pepper, Malayan pepper and black pepper, thyme, rosemary, nutmeg, mace, fenugreek and (possibly) cantharides (Spanish fly).

    And Bubble Works, never say never! Two options for preservation are microwaving for 30 seconds or so on high, or, sealed in a suitable freezer bag - freeze!

  • Comment number 9.

    Funny how excited we all are about what we can bring back from our travels even though most cities in Britain have 'cosmopolitan' delicatessens that stock many of these special ingredients.

    For me it is the humble stock cube - yes they are different on the continent and well worth the luggage space because they simply aren't available in the UK. They are a basic item in most resorts throughout Europe.

  • Comment number 10.

    Funny how excited we all are about what we can bring back from our travels even though most cities in Britain have 'cosmopolitan' delicatessens that stock many of these special ingredients.

    For me it is the humble stock cube - yes they are different on the continent and well worth the luggage space because they simply aren't available in the UK. They are a basic item in most resorts throughout Europe.

 

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