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May 19, 2013 03:37 PM

Gifts from California to take overseas?

Hi, Seeking ideas for food gifts from northern Calif. to take to Asia. Besides wine and chocolate (and nuts). Got those covered. Mainly deciding between dried apricots and olive oil. Very hard to find nice presentations of dried apricots (besides bags), and am not sure if recipient cooks, so olive oil is kinda' meh in my priorities. Would like it presented very nicely, similar to how Poco Dolce presents their chocolates.
Also, would like to pick it up locally, in Sacramento area or SF Bay Area (ie not online). Thanks!

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  1. I've been buying (and loving) the oils and vinegars from DaVero in Healdsburg for several years now. The Meyer Lemon oo is fantastic.

    Why not buy online? I've been there but usually I just order online. What's the diff?

    4 Replies
    1. re: c oliver

      Thanks for the suggestion. If I decide on olive oil I'll definitely consider this one. Not online b/c of the time factor. For other gifts besides olive oil, not online b/c I want to see them first to see what they really look like, not just buy from a pic online.

      What's been your experience giving olive oil to folks who don't cook?

      1. re: c oliver

        Btw did you mean their straight Lemon Oil or their Meyer Lemon Olive Oil? I see two diff. products online.

        1. re: wahine88

          I just looked and only see the Meyer Lemon and their regular which isn't lemon.

          I kinda overlooked the fact that you don't know if they cook. I probably wouldn't get it then. It's not cheap and is far to good to be wasted. Could you maybe ask? Something like I want to bring you a little something from CA. Do you cook? Just a thought.

          1. re: c oliver

            poco dolce aztec chile tiles

            They are wonderful and made in the Bay Area.


      2. Not sure if you're looking to expand categories beyond what you're considering.

        But I've had good luck schlepping jams for gifts to folks in other parts of the world (I'm partial to June Taylor, esp. those using fruits that call out northern Calif--eg. Meyer Lemon--@ Saturday Ferry Bldg Market or her Stillroom in the East Bay for the best selection or speciality grocers like Star Market in Berkeley, Pasta Shop @ Rockridge in Oakland).

        n.b. not sure how kosher this was, but I once sent Meyer Lemons all by themselves and carefully wrapped, in a friend's checked suitcase, bound for Sweden, for a mutual friend--and got a rave response from the recipient.

        2 Replies
        1. re: sundeck sue

          Thank you for these suggestions. Yes, I am definitely looking to expand categories beyond what I'm considering. Looking for a gift for a relatively young person who probably doesn't cook. Not a wine or chocolate. Thank you! I do notice jams around - just not sure if this person even eats at home very much, re: jams/mustards locally.

          1. re: wahine88

            Oops. Was just about to say mustards. Even s/he doesn't even eat at home, then I'm going to suggest not taking food at all :)

        2. Regarding the apricots: In the South Bay, Andy's Orchard in Morgan Hill has beautiful presentations of dried apricots and other dried fruits, and the fruit is top notch. C.J. Olson in Sunnyvale also has some nice dried fruit presentations, and they have wonderful apricots as well.


          10 Replies
          1. re: mdg

            Thank you, Michael! I'd forgotten about C.J. Olson in Sunnyvale. I"ll check them both out. Thanks again. I was considering Bella Vista Orchards - but could buy only online. If anyone has any experience with them, pls let me know. The pix online are often very different than reality. (darker/less attractive, for one)

            1. re: mdg

              Michael, Andy's has the best presentation so far that I've seen, in driving distance of me. But darn, they are closed Mondays and I needed to go tomorrow. Any idea if they sell anywhere else? Thanks if you know...

              1. re: wahine88

                CJ Olson has a partnership with Andy's and might sell some of the products. Worth a call.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Good idea. I just missed them and had called them both before replying now. I hope that the message on Andy's is just old and they are indeed open Mondays. Their presentation is not fancy, but definitely advertises California, with old fruit crate-style labels on them, which seem to look great.

                  I also notice they sell real sugar plums, which would be fun to taste, and to give at Christmas-time.

              2. re: mdg

                Thanks again, Michael, for this suggestion. I got some from there today - they'd just opened for the "Summer." Cutely set-up shop! My only regret is not specifying white nectarines in the gift box instead of the pears they placed in. A long-time employee there said pears are more popular but nectarines are from their own orchards. I really like their presentation, and the 1 lb box wasn't too big (6" x 7" x 1"). Too bad Whole Foods doesn't carry them. Bella Vista had a nice presentation, too, but could buy only online or if I wanted the $40 12" x 7.5" version from Dean & Deluca. Plus, Bella Vista did not return my request for a call back, whereas Andy's called back, and even before they opened! Andy Mariani himself arranged the boxes and shrink wrapped them, from what I understand. Quite a find! Look forward to tasting their Sugar Plums some Christmas in the future. Thanks again. I do know of C.J. Olson, but their apricot boxes were closed, so I could not see what they looked like inside, plus were plain white boxes instead of the "crate" appearance I was ideally seeking.

                1. re: wahine88


                  Does Andy's have fresh cherries now?

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Has some cherries, so technically, yes. They just opened for the summer a few days ago so overall their fresh fruit looked scarce. They have fava beans but the employee told me that is just transient. Huge fava beans!

                  2. re: wahine88

                    Glad you liked it! We've done Andy's for gifts in the past. Definitely do come back to try the sugar plums during the holidays - they're excellent.


                    1. re: mdg

                      Yes; thanks. Their packaging espec was perfect. 1 pound box of California dried fruit not too big, and the crate label type box with old crate label looking font and fruit images on the FRONT -- not just inside -- of the box is great.

                      The actual dried fruit, of course, wherever I looked, is a duller color than many online pix promise.

                      I'm confused why people prefer pears in the box rather then the nectarines grown by Andy. Any suggestions of types to request for my next box? Mine had apricots, plums, pears, necatrines, I believe. But this time of year, one employee said many were not grown by Andy's - just grown locally. One employee said the pears are not grown by them but more popular with customers than Andy's dried nectarines.

                    2. re: wahine88

                      Andy is the best. I took the orchard tour several years ago and it was a hoot. Andy led it himself and focused heavily on the wonderful juiciness of the peaches and nectarines, and when I timidly ventured that I prefer my fruit slightly crunchy, he (jokingly) called me a "Philistine".

                      Some of the best fruit I have ever had and the sun-dried apricots are delicious.

                  3. When we travel to Japan, we take big, fluffy bath towels (yes, I know it's not a food item) and California short grain rice - in addition to the usual See's Chocolates, pistachios and almonds, and bourbon whiskey.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Cynsa

                      Considering no knowledge of food, I think the towels are a super idea. And then you have room in your luggage to bring home great food items :)

                      1. re: Cynsa

                        Thanks for the thoughts. I would personally love your recommendation of bath towels, since my find of the best ones 2 yrs ago have now been discontinued. Since I'm going to Asia, I know what you mean bout bringing California rice, but I dare not bring rice. A lot of people I know also suggested See's (and one recipient of mine w/in US actually turned down my gift of Poco Dolce's, saying they preferred See's instead); I much prefer the taste of Poco Dolce's, plus their being really locally made, and love their classy packaging. Thanks for whiskey idea, too - one of my recipients is a whiskey aficionado, so I was warned to not bring him that. Sigh...

                      2. Where in Asia? We have friends and relatives in Japan, Malaysia and Singapore. They all want or have access to different things.

                        14 Replies
                        1. re: bulavinaka

                          Hong Kong, where one can buy almost anything. =( Thus, the challenge.

                          1. re: wahine88

                            Nuts - good quality nuts - are uncommon/expensive in Asia. Most are imported from here where we take these things for granted at places like Trader Joe's or Costco by the pound/3-pound bag. Organic goods are also relative uncommon/expensive in Asia. Santa Barbara organic pistachios have been well received by relatives and friends in Japan, Singapore and Malaysia. Aside from the basic salted, I think there are five or six seasoned varieties as well - one or two should fit the flavor likings of your friends. Pecans have gone way up in price here because they're considered to be good brain food in China and they are buying up huge quantities for their markets - Hong Kong, I don't know...

                            Certain liquors are often another thing that is plentiful here yet somewhat hard to find or non-existent Asia. Liqueurs are somewhat uncommon there - they just don't drink them much but I tend to use them a lot in dishes, particularly in fruit or dessert dishes. St. Germain elderflower liqueur seems to be nonexistent in Asia yet goes well with many fruits. It has a wonderful lychee component, and lychee is very popular in places like Hong Kong. Rum is also unnoticed until they get introduced to it. Relatives in Malaysia almost drank nothing but cognac (sometimes Scotch) until I bought a bottle of Bicardi Reserva at the duty free in Langkawi and brought it back to them - they really enjoyed it straight up and with pineapple juice. Rum is so varied but if you go with either something like Meyer's which goes great with different juices, or a Venezuelan rum which is good on its own (Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva about $30-40) it is approachable to most drinkers. Drinks and nuts are a natural together. If they drink, I think this combination might be a suggestion.

                            Olive oil is a relatively newcomer to Asia. Many seem to be attracted to its healthy aspects relative to other oils that they typically use. Whether it's true or not, I find that the Chinese culture embraces most things that can hedge against bad health, so it couldn't hurt to consider this as well.

                            Cosmetics/lotions/toiletries that are organic or have a high organic content are another luxury item in Asia. However, strongly scented things are typically shunned there as well. We had some organic mosquito repellent that was initially wowed at until the strong herbal/floral smell came through.

                            I don't know about Hong Kong, but it seems that most of Asia does appreciate big thick cotton products. My mother-in-law picked up a dozen luxurious bath towels at Costco to bring back to Malaysia. Non-white was her choice, as hot water heaters in steamy Malaysia are not common, so the washer uses cold water.

                            We didn't gift wrap anything on our past visit to Asia because we feared that customs would open some or all of them like they did on previous trips. To substitute gift wrap, we got some nice reusable shopping bags that are becoming very commonplace in Asia. Whole Foods has some good ones with images that are recognizable as American, but Chicobags are far more compactable. Baggu has some that we found to be very stylish and well liked by my relatives in Japan and Singapore.

                            People in Hong Kong are very superstitious. Whatever you decide upon, you should try to cross-reference it with customs/superstitions in Hong Kong. Certain colors or items might be harmless to us but...

                            Edit: Chocolates are usually well received, but better chocolates are now becoming far more common in much of Asia. Another potential issue is what time of year you will be traveling. Summer months can be pretty tough on chocolates. I found that my Chinese relatives lean toward lighter chocolates like milk chocolate. The bitter component in darker chocolates seems to be unfavored, unless it's a coating for nuts or chews. If taking chocolates, they should not only be in a more insulated part of your luggage, they should also be in airtight packaging.

                            Chocolates pick up odors and it will affect the flavor. We used to ship or bring See's chocolates to relatives in Japan. They hated these chocolates because they tasted so nasty to them. We offered them some when they visited us here and they declined, reluctantly telling us why they didn't care for them. We finally figured out why they tasted so nasty to them. We didn't take the airtight wrapping precaution and honestly didn't think of it. Another thing to consider is that companies like See's are now worldwide and I think they have a shop in Hong Kong.

                            1. re: bulavinaka

                              Wow. Thanks for such a thoughtful reply. If travelling in June, would dark chocs be OK? I hope the humidity doesn't make them bloom.
                              I guess I'd consider olive oil if I knew they cooked. Since I"m also bringing wine, shying away from more liquids that might spill.
                              Again, would love to know fluffy towel suggestions besides Costco's (yes, I used to use those - am expanding now) - as a side thing, since you're the 2nd person who mentioned towels.
                              Thanks for all these ideas.

                              1. re: wahine88

                                I know liquids can be iffy - feels like one is courting disaster. you can get relatively inexpensive carriers from wine shops that will fit most bottles. Alternatively, if you do get towels, they would make good insulators/packing material.

                                I am sure nice towels are available in Hong Kong - usually it is the price that is prohibitive in Asia, and as I mentioned above, the care may or may not be difficult. Washers in Asia can be quite small, depending on the country and the city. Some folks have dryers, many hang their stuff to dry. Washer/dryer all-in-one machines are becoming popular for their space-saving but are inferior to having a washer and a dryer. We used one for a week in a home we rented in Kyoto last year and it was nominal in effectiveness. Furthermore, one could probably load one or two bath towels at best for one load. I don't know your friends' situation in Hong Kong, but that city-state in general is quite dense, so what I mention above many be worth considering.

                                I only bring up the olive oil idea because someone else did and my in-laws in Malaysia like the health benefits angle. The olive oils I saw in stores over there was either sludge or small expensive bottles in the specialty foods area of department stores. I'd keep it lower on the list as far as liquids go.

                                Wines are great as long as you have an idea of what types of wine your friends would like. I know Hong kong has access to some very serious wines, but I'm certain your choices will far outweigh their's on any given day. I think as a gesture of gift-giving in general in Asia, name recognition is probably key. So outlaying tons of money for a world-reknown wine may or may not be in the cards. At the same time, many dishes in the Chinese cuisines can be difficult to pair with wines in general.

                                IMHO, liquor goes a lot longer of a way as long as they do drink - it's a matter of getting what you think they might like. IMHO, cognac cannot fail in the Chinese culture. It's the king and poured at banquets and times of celebration. Scotch is probably next in line but is dwarfed by cognac. Germain Robin is a California brandy that is world class. They offer an XO that is quite good - supposedly rivals some of the best cognacs. I picked up my last bottle last year for around $110. I don't know how far it is distributed, but it may be worth looking into. Assuming it is rare of nil in Hong Kong, this may be a worthy gift.

                                I think as long as you pack your chocolates in the center of your baggage as much as possible, you should be okay. It will be fine in the baggage hold of the jet. The time between baggage claim and arriving at your hotel or friend's place is the main concern - shouldn't be very long in Hong Kong? I don't know the weather pattern for Hong Kong in June, but it's monsoon season in Japan. I know Japan can get serious amounts of rain in June, along with relatively humid weather in the upper 70s to mid 80s.

                                1. re: bulavinaka

                                  Thanks again for your thorough reply. Question re your para about wines. NOt sure what you meant about
                                  "So outlaying tons of money for a world-reknown wine may or may not be in the cards. At the same time, many dishes in the Chinese cuisines can be difficult to pair with wines in general."
                                  Since name recognition is important, I would have thought I should get the higher valued wine? Also, I have heard different things re whether white or red goes with Chinese food. Thoughts?
                                  As for liquor, I'm told this person enjoys whiskey but is v particular about the type, so am told to not bring any...

                                  1. re: wahine88

                                    You probably know enough about much of East Asian culture where label helps substantiate status. Bordeaux in wines is tantamount to designer labels in women's bags. Petrus roughly equals Prada or any other label in women's boutique fashion. Hong Kong has more than its share of rich folks, so products implying wealth and status are well in stock. $600+ for a bottle of wine seems outrageous to me at least - >>So outlaying tons of money for a world-reknown wine may or may not be in the cards.<<

                                    Because Chinese cuisine can be all of the flavor map, it's a potential minefield for wine pairing. Sweetness at varying levels is commonly found - this can work against wines that have any tannic structure - they will taste bitter, unless there's a residual sugar level that can match up to the sweetness of the dish. It seems that while the Chinese palate appreciates bitter, bitter must be a known component in the dish (like bitter melon with pork). It's kind of strange, since Western wine typically consumed in Asia is red - go figure. The complexity of heat also is difficult to match up since heat is often accompanied by so many different flavors as well (sweet, savory, funk). Sweeter white wines like a medium- dry reisling seem to not compete with many of the flavors. But my go-to wine when I just can't figure out what will work best is a sparkling rose. I really like the wine on it's own, and I think like other carbonated beverages, it acts more like a palate cleanser. The blush is easy on the eyes, and the slight contact from the skins gives it a little more body and character than a typical sparkling wine in my book.

                                    As for whiskey, yeah, that's a tough nut to crack. There are so many types and the prices are all over the map. Prices for the good stuff have soared over the past few years as whiskey has become popular among younger generations, and there's obviously only so much that can come out for sale each year. The impetus is to bring something, as gift-giving is almost a ritual in East Asia, so if I were bringing any alcohol, I'd set my budget, get something decent and go from there?

                                    1. re: bulavinaka

                                      Thanks again for your thoughtful replies. It's a mystery to me -here people say white wine goes better with Chinese food, but as you say, red wines (Western) are consumed more in Asia.

                                  2. re: bulavinaka

                                    In terms of liquor, St. George Spirits in Alameda would be another good place to pick up some bottles. I really like their Gins - the terroir is supposed to remind you of the Oakland Hills. They offer a lot of different types including absinthe and a single malt whiskey. I provided the link below.


                                    1. re: JonDough

                                      JonDough beat me to it: Since you are proposing California gifts, why consider anything like Scotch from outside the US when one of the most distinctive malt whiskies, renowned by enthusiasts well beyond California, is the St. George single malt, distilled in Alameda and retailed by all notable Bay Area spirits dealers? I am a longtime collector of real, interesting, Scottish single malts and the St. George is indeed classy stuff, in a distinctive, faintly fruity style that varies with the batch (10 or 12 so far). I even recommend it at personal risk: since its popularity exploded a few years ago, the price has been increasing noticeably, though I think I laid in an adequate reserve for a while.

                                      Ditto the suggestion upthread for Germain-Robin's alembic brandies in the Cognac tradition. A few years ago I'd also have recommended G-R's smaller, less well known and probably better-value neighbor Jepson, but the one firm absorbed the other or something like that. And from experience (consuming these products more for the flavor than the label, please note), these distinctive California products do gratify very experienced Cognac fans. (If the recipient is merely interested in status-symbol labels on the other hand -- a phenomenon hardly unique to HK -- expensive Hennesseys and Remy-Martins tailored to that market are always available.)

                                      1. re: JonDough

                                        I was thinking about the Buddha's Hand vodka from Hangar One that is sitting in my basement only to find that St George's sold Hangar One shortly after I bought it. That would have been a cool present. Now I'm thinking I won't open this bottle as it may be worth something :-). Agree on the other spirit offerings from them as well based on our tasting there a few years ago.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Thanks, Robert, I misread that paragraph -- I can see they are still making it for Proximo. In which case, yay for Buddha's Hand!

                                            1. re: grayelf

                                              thanks for these Scotch suggestions. How much are we talking a bottle, and also, wouldn't you advise I make sure the person likes Scotch type of whiskey (I had heard that all scotch is whiskey, but not all whiskey is scotch), or just likes alchohol in general? In any case, this trip the recipient is v particular about his whiskey, so I"ve been warned to not try and bring him whiskey. But good to know for future trips - thank you!

                                              1. re: wahine88

                                                Scotch whisky per se is from Scotland (where whisky is spelled without "e"). Blended Scotches are the traditional form seen in the US, but "single malts" (from individual distillers, often aged by a second firm, which also selects and indicates the particular used wine barrels employed) have distinct characters and are beloved by connoisseurs. Several general styles exist. Larger production single malts like McAllan (in a nutty, smooth style) are widely available circa $40 and are meritorious starter malts. But again, that's all about Scotland.

                                                Other countries including Japan have followed Scotland's lead in producing barley-malt whiskies of the Scotch style. St. George is a famous unique artisanal US _single-malt_ product in that tradition and FWIW, is much esteemed by most fellow single-malt enthusiasts I know. Last bought around $53 at BevMo but to repeat, price has been going up as St. George has become more publicly fashionable.

                                                It would have reliable connoisseur appeal among knowledgeable people in Asia, but the question is whether your recipient has a different favorite whiskey style, e.g. Bourbons, or some very different single-malt style like the very smoky or very iodine-heavy kinds rather than the more nutty and even fruity style of St. G which does, however, demonstrate wide appeal. (One very upscale Bay Area bar-grill had St G as its stock "well" single malt, until the wholesale price rose a year ago and put it out of reach for such service.)