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Mar 23, 2011 12:19 PM

Bringing Candy and Food Gifts to Italy

I am travelling to Italy in May and want to bring candy for children in the families I am staying with, but want to bring something they do not have there .... any ideas?

Also thought of bringing some food gifts for the hosts - but have no ideas.

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  1. M and M's for the kids. See's DARK chocolate for the adults.

    1. I wouldn't recommend bringing chocolate, as some of the best chocolate I have ever tasted was from Italy. Gummy bears/worms/etc. would be a great gift for the kids. Are there any specialty foods from where you live (i.e. maple syrup if you live in Vermont)?

      2 Replies
      1. re: ekc

        I live in a suburb of Torono, Canada. Maple syrup is abundant this time of year, but I worry the Italians may not have a lot of use for it in their cooking. The children are small 4 and 5 and I wanted something they didn't have there. When I travel on business to the USA I always bring Smarties and Aero bars and Coffee Crisp for the collegues I work with as they are not available there. was trying to think of something easily carry-able but different forthe kids in that way.

        1. re: ttassone

          You're right about the maple syrup: Italians wouldn't know what to do with it. One Roman I knew loved maple-sugar candy, but even he wasn't much taken with maple syrup.

      2. I never mind getting a jar of peanut butter. If they drink (the parents not the kids), a bottle of good bourbon makes a nice gift.

        1 Reply
        1. re: katieparla

          For the kids, might bring a funky selection of US favorites--M+Ms, Reese's, etc. Moon Pies. Tastee Cakes. Cotlets/Aplets. Junior Mints. Salt Water taffy. Other regional treats. A single batch bourbon s a great idea, maybe an Oregon pear eau de vie.

        2. In my experience, here are some things that are hard to find/novel.

          Most kinds of American sweets-- a box of brownie mix or cookie mix might be interesting. Crunch and Munch or peanut brittle.

          American breakfast foods-- one Italian friend thought pop tarts were disgusting (which they mostly are) but another liked them. I'd wager that the kids would like a box of Lucky Charms or Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

          More savory--We're staying really lowbrow here but something like Stove-Top stuffing is from another planet. A good salsa might go over well too.

          Hope this helps.

          1. What American/Canadian expats in Italy might enjoy and what Italians might enjoy are two entirely different kettles of fish. Italians would not know what to do with or enjoy brownie mix or Stovetop dressing.

            As a rule, Italians a) are very conservative in their eating habits, b) favour fresh products over prepared foods, and I don't see the point of bringing them American/Canadian junk food.

            10 Replies
            1. re: zerlina

              Yes, it's junk food. No I wouldn't give a complete stranger Stovetop but I would be ok with some of the others.

              The OP wanted some suggestions. Now that you've covered what not to bring, how about answering their question?

              I would hate to think that 'campanilismo' is so strong that no American food product would be well received by an Italian family.

              1. re: badwaiter

                I wouldn't bring food, period, except to someone who had been to North America and found something they liked and couldn't find in Italy.

                If pressed, I might suggest bringing a local product like saltwater taffy from the Atlantic seaboard or pralines from New Orleans. The only local product (and it's not all that local) around Toronto that I know of is maple-sugar candy, which I've already mentioned. Or an artisanal (rather than mass-manufactured) product, but I'm not familiar with candymakers and chocolatiers in Toronto.

                I think you'd be surprised how many Italians are unwilling even to try non-Italian food. Ethnic restaurants have made inroads in major cities, but most Italians don't frequent them. The only American "restaurant" that is ubiquitous in Italy is McDonald's. I don't think much of McDonald's contribution to Italian eating habits, and I know many Italians deplore it.

              2. re: zerlina

                I'm with Zerlina on this. Why bring inferior or useless North American products to Italy? When I stuff a Thanksgiving turkey here, it's like I was from Mars, so Stovetop would be considered bizarre. And when I bring mixes back for myself, I wind up never using them. The only thing might be some truly good fudge or brownies, not mix. Maple sugar candy would be good except it might not be appreciated, and many parents will not appreciate sweet gifts for their already hyperactive children.

                Maple syrup is greatly appreciated by a few people but totally mystifies most. It is generally a waste unless (a) you know the recipient will appreciate it, or (b) you take some trouble to explain how it might fit into the Italian kitchen. On the latter point I can offer two ideas from my maple-loving Italian husband: pour it over really good ricotta or on strawberries (or both). Another Italian friend loves it in her tea.

                What I find goes over better than food gifts is North American ingenuity -- kitchen gadgets and such, and some clever game or toy for the children. Zip-Loc bags may not be the most elegant house present, but in some circles they would earn you undying gratitude. I personally would love to receive a jar of peanut butter, but most Italians would not appreciate it, or worse. Remember, they think our eating habits are the worst in the world.

                It's not an easy question.

                1. re: mbfant

                  Now that this discussion has some nuance, I must unfortunately agree. What you should bring rises in proportion on a scale of "nothing" to "Stove Top" to how well traveled these folks are and how well you know them. Still, the simple act of bringing a gift is nice and even if they might not truly enjoy it, it's a very positive gesture. Still, in thinking hard about this question, I think I have a good answer for the kids at least. Make some rice crispy treats or bring them a bag of marshmallows.

                  I think the real question raised here is "What is mbfant's favorite brand of peanut butter?"

                  1. re: badwaiter

                    A few years back we faced the same issue when we sent our kids to France to live with familes on exchange programs. I wound up sending some lovely homemade jam my father had made on the theory that it was a recognizable product to a french person, it was personal and above all it was very good! since there are very good artisanal products being made these days in the US, I would consider a similar item, We had a very good marionberry jam from the pacific northwest recently, or blueberry, perhaps, as long as it is very fresh and good. I nice jar of not-to-spicy salsa might also be good.

                    I think the kid gifts are less sensitive - I think we sent "jelly bellies" for them in that instance..

                  2. re: mbfant

                    To follow-up on MB's zip-loc bag comment, I had a friend visiting from Italy this last weekend and she LOVED the Glad Press-N-Seal wrap I used for my leftovers. So much so that she bought 2 boxes of it to bring back with her to Italy, and asked that I bring her a couple more boxes when we return to Italy in October. She also said that she had bought her mom a micro-plane grater last time she was in NYC (she couldn't find one in their small town) and she loves it.
                    For a hostess gift she brought me jars of jams and vegetable preserves her family had "put up" this summer, which was the perfect gift for me, and is something that I would bring her, if you do that sort of thing.

                    1. re: ekc

                      Microplanes are a good idea. They're serious items, so real gifts. And so are home preserves. I brought a roll of Press-N-Seal back with me last trip, but I keep forgetting about it. I was recently given a gift of heavy-duty foil I appreciated very much. I don't eat enough peanut butter to have a favorite brand, but given the choice, I usually go for chunky, but it's useless. I would have to suffer the derision of my Italian better half. (No, he doesn’t eat Nutella either.) :-) I would really skip the marshmallows without parental permission. Don't encourage them to think of us as addicted to junk food!

                      1. re: mbfant

                        I'm not addicted, I can stop any time....

                    2. re: mbfant

                      I couldn't imagine bringing cling wrap to my cousins in Calabria, or to anyone else, as much as it may be appreciated on some dutifully practical level. I'd try to avoid junking it up (lord knows there's already junk cookies and snacks galore in Italy), but would dare to risk scorn by presenting some examples of distinctive American culinary gems, whether it's a small batch whiskey or artisanal taffy. Could be wine, could be good fudge. I know all about Italian conservatism when it comes to daily diets, but what's wrong with bringing something you felt was among the best we had to offer? Zia Concetta might not really be crazy about it, but someone might, and the gift of something of good quality that is unexpected or unfamiliar or unavailable seems less forced than figuring out what among all things possible they might need. Giving is not about winning or losing, after all; at least I don't think so.

                      1. re: bob96

                        Artisanal, traditional items, like taffy and fudge, would be great, as would any genuinely good native product (unless you can't bear to see good maple syrup go to waste), but I really would draw the line at Mars bars and marshmallows. We can do better than that!