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Feb 26, 2012 03:37 AM

Local, unique food gifts

I'm traveling to Taiwan and Beijing for a few weeks, and I'm looking for some local, unique foods from LA to bring with me as gifts. Vitamins, I've been informed, are a popular choice for a gift to bring over there but that strikes me as a bit impersonal and a bit like giving somebody socks for Christmas. Although, I suppose vitamins could be somewhat appropiate given the image of Californians as health conscious.

At first, I was thinking of bringing some candy, something like See's chocolates or sea salt caramels from Little Flower Candy Company but I'm concerned that they might be too sweet for the recepient. I've noticed that Chinese desserts from their pastry shops or at the end of a Chinese meal are never chocolately and almost never sweet.

Then, I was thinking of bringing along coffee beans from Intelligentsia because they'd be easy to transport, they're something local that you wouldn't find over in Taiwan, and because coffe beans in Taiwan end up costing a lot more over there. But, I don't think they'll make a good choice because I've been told that assuming the recepient drinks coffee instead of tea, they don't drink coffee at home but at cafes.

Ideally, I'm looking for something that looks nice enough to be presentable, travels easily and won't spoil right away, and is cheaper to buy here in LA than it is over there in Taiwan. And that its local, either locally made or made from local ingredients or something that's sold only here.

I was also originally thinking about iconic LA foods, a food that you think of when you think of LA or even California. But, I can't think of anything that would work. There's restrictions about bringing in fruit or vegetables into a foreign country. And, a hamburger won't travel well.

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    1. re: Servorg

      There's a great store in Pasadena called Beyond the Olive that sells more olive oils, vinegars, etc. than you can imagine, many of them local. They also sell olivewood serving pieces (some handcarved), olive oil soaps and lotions and other olive-related, mostly local, stuff. They have great sample sizes of their locally made unique vinegars (fig balsamic and blackberry balsamic are my favorites) so you could even get them under the liquid requirements in your luggage. This is how we brought samples to my mom over Christmas as a housewarming/thank you. =)

    2. For over 80 years the Best English Toffee anywhere is at LittleJohn's Candies in The Original Farmers Market on 3rd and Fairfax. The LA gift I always give to out of towers. It's that good.

      Farmers Market
      6333 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90036

      and here ere are some older links that answers your same question:

      1. Would CA almonds or pistachios or dates make an acceptable gift? The other CA product would be artichokes but I know that they would not be well received.

        1. Supplements of various sorts are really great things to bring to many parts of Asia - the equivalents are either very expensive and very hard to find, or nonexistent all together. Product lines from companies like NuSkin and Amway are doing booming business in Asia but the prices and lead times can be deterrents. Family members in Asia almost always ask for certain supplements without fail. With that said, nuts are relatively stable and are easy to pack. Pistachios are becoming more popular, particularly the seasoned ones. Santa Barbara Pistachios were a hit with our relatives in Singapore and Malaysia. They're organic, come in various seasoned flavors, and can be had at various FMs. Cashews and almonds are popular as well, and pecans are now becoming very popular in China. A nut somewhat off the radar up until recently is the Macadamia nut. Its rich tropical coconut-like taste is making this very popular in tropical Asia or anywhere else that this flavor profile is popular.

          Olive oil is gaining popularity in Asia as well. Its health benefits popularize it but I think that most Asians would not utilize the better stuff as intended unless you show them and if they take to the flavors and styles of food that it was intended for. E.g., salads are probably the most popular use for better olive oils, but most from Chinese cultures wave off raw vegetables.

          Dates are in full swing right now - really nice ones can be had but I think they might be too sweet for the typical Asian palate, but you never know. We picked up some Deglet Noor and Medjool dates for our Bro-in-Law to try. He is well-traveled and used to trying different things, and he did like them. Things that one associates having with dates can be iffy too. Creamy cheeses, bleu cheeses, goat cheeses, etc., tend to be on the no-go list for many Asians, while cured/smoked pork will be embraced, but presenting dates in some modified form from a traveler's perspective can be complicated. Maybe in cookies or blended in drinks?

          I don't know how much you intend to spend, but cognac is usually very well received in the Chinese cultures. Germain-Robin XO Brandy is a California product, and is very good by any standard. It runs around $100-120 a 750ml bottle, but I think it would make a nice gift to the patriarch of the family.

          2 Replies
          1. re: bulavinaka

            "Olive oil is gaining popularity in Asia as well.. the better stuff as intended...salads are probably the most popular use for better olive oils"

            I must be almost totally out of synch with my olive oil use then as I cook with it almost exclusively rather than using it for salad making... ;-D>

            1. re: Servorg

              For a hound who pedals more in one day than most do in a month, I think being out of synch is not in your nature...

              Just a general statement and I could easily be wrong but, EVOO is better saved for dressing food, while the other forms are preferred for use in frying, general cooking, etc.

          2. Anyone who's spent a considerable amount of time in Hawaii knows the See's candy shops are inundated with Aisian travelers buying truckloads of candy to take back to their homeland.
            Knowing that, and knowing that anything 'American' is something they are very curious about I, and many other people I know, will take along, to Bejing, See's, Wonderful pistachios (grown in California and of very high quality in a lovely black packaging, and lots of dried fruit indigenous to our local area or otherwise.
            They love all of it.

            5 Replies
            1. re: latindancer

              See's candies/chocolates can be tricky. We used to offer them to guests from Japan while visiting here, and they'd enjoy them. We'd then send them by air as gifts as well as pack them in our luggage. After a few times, our relatives started to politely decline our offers to bring or send them. We found out later that the chocolates didn't taste right, reason being that they'd picked up the scents of clothing, luggage, other items in the luggage or packages while in transit. Chocolate is a magnet for other aromas, scents, odors. Wrapping the boxes in plastic helps, but even plastic wrap has a scent to it. Just my .02.

              1. re: bulavinaka

                Very good point.

                A few years ago I sent 5 pounds of See's to a friend in a remote area in Florida. It's not readily available to some parts of the California we're pretty spoiled when it comes to some foods we can find on any street corner.
                I overnighted it via FedEx and it arrived with a white covering and tasted terrible. FedEx said it went through Memphis which had a heavy snow that year.
                Chocolate is highly vulnerable to heat/cold change and even having the company send it ,opposed to me sending it, would have been questionable.
                The OP doesn't say how they intend to take it but I now always, when traveling with perishables like that, will carry it in my carry-on bag.
                The pistachios and dried fruit I mentioned would be packed with checked luggage and the chocolates definitely would be traveling with me inflight.

              2. re: latindancer

                I've seen the commercials for Wonderful pistachios, but I think the commercials emphasize the stunt casting too much. They never ever talk about the quality, why its better than other commodity pistachios. And, I never even knew they were grown in California although, in retrospect, I should have known that since almost all the American pistachios are grown in California.

                Wonderful vs. Santa Barbara, which one is the better pistachio?

                1. re: hobbess

                  I can't recall purchasing Santa Barbara, although I'm sure they're great.

                  There are a couple of reasons I purchase Wonderful pistachios.

                  I purchase them, mainly, from Pavilion's in WeHo. Every few weeks they have a special where you purchase one and receive the second one free. During the holidays I could purchase them in a black velvet pouch. My pantry is always stocked with these and I'm seriously addicted to them. Thankfully, they're healthy.
                  Secondly, I don't know about Santa Barbara but these have a consistently 'wonderful', lightly salted, very fresh flavor to them....very flavorful.
                  The casings are all open and easy to shell. I've found very few, over the years, that aren't. I hope this company continues to be successful because they're, quite honestly, the best I've had.

                  1. re: latindancer

                    Jordan market on Westwood Blvd has a huge selection of pistachios year round- some of them packaged but such variety - and wonderfully fresh.