What food and food related items to bring back from Mexico
Leaving for Puerto Vallarta in a couple of weeks. What would you bring back with you, vanilla beans, dried chile peppers? Anything at all?
Vanilla extract (the POSA brand is natural vanilla, but do not buy PASA artificial vanilla. Plus, as you said, vanilla beans, dried chiles, also mole powder or pastes. You might be able to buy Salsa Chapala in Vallarta; it's really excellent bottled table salsa, exactly the same as Salsa Cholula but less than a quarter of the price.
These are the items I've routinely brought back
Dried chiles I easily can't source where I live (this site - http://www.baileyfarmsinc.com/allreci... has tons of recipes for many different varieties of chiles, including some of the less common ones
mole paste or powder
Chocolate that isn't Abuelita or Ibarra
Corn husks for making tamales
Sal de grano (salt)
Dried Mexican oregano
Dried avocado leaves
A lime squeezer
A tortilla press
A comal (bring 2 back, 1 will break)
Tequila or mezcal
Declare any food products you bring back the policy is pretty liberal and you don't really need to smuggle. Customs will ask what you're carrying when they see the food listed, and you may get diverted for a secondary ag inspection depending upon where you clear US cusoms. I think it's better these days to get inspected than to go into the government computers as a smuggler ;-). Generally, dried, canned, bottled or otherwise preserved items are usually not a problem. Fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and cheese are not advisable.
small batch mezcal
tuna stuffed jalapenos
fresh annatto seed (achiote)
be on the lookout for green glazed cazuelas from Michoacan, hand glazed plates from Tlalpan
I usually buy dried chiles in local markets - when I'm cooking it makes me happy to remember where and when I got them. Also, chipotles en adobo in small glass jars from the super mercado - I've never found them in jars in the US, and they're much more practical for me than the little cans where I always have odd amounts left over.
From Puerto Vallarta I would get Raicilla, or some tequilas not available in the US. Although there are so many brands available in the states, there are even more only available in Mexico. I find these bottles all the time. Some great high-end tequilas that are very expensive in the US are smart buys at the Duty Free, especially in the DF airport, if passing through. For me it's almost always booze.