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Good food ideas to bring to Italy from the US?

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We're going to Italy in July for vacation and will be spending time with relatives. I usually buy something for them -- Hollister t-shirts for the kids, some sort of body cream or perfume, etc. I was thinking of bringing over some nice food items this year. I love getting stuff from Italian grocery stores and my understanding is some things we have here are really pricey there. Any ideas of things they might like from an American grocery store? I'm a member of a food coop and also live in NYC so I have access to nice high end stuff, too. Someone told me real vanilla extract is pricey there. Someone else said baking powder, but that seems too weird. I got another mention for walnuts, but they seem to have tons over there. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated (also alcoholic suggestions. Last year we brought over some micro-distillery whiskey. I thought it was a terrific gift, but would feel weird bringing the same thing again.) Thanks!

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  1. This is an interesting question.

    My uninformed take is that Italians love their regional foods and wines, look down on American foods and wines and are moderately intrigued by gadgets made in the USA.

    Maybe gift them with some fancy, local Italian wines, cheeses, hams they wouldn't buy for themselves. Gadgets? Perhaps consider a high-end electric knife sharpener from Chef's Catalog. They're assembled in the US.

    I'd go with the local wines, hams.

    1 Reply
    1. re: steve h.

      Some of that may not make it through customs! Be sure and check first

    2. I'd take pecans and/or California almonds.

      1 Reply
      1. re: sueatmo

        Pecans, definitely. They don't exist here, but I wouldn't bring almonds, which are plentiful, as are hazelnuts and walnuts (often imported from California).

        I think Steve's idea of kitchen gadgets is best, but be careful of electrical appliances, which may need converters and definitely adapters. Also, you want made-in-USA items, increasingly difficult to find. Microplane graters could be an idea. They are beginning to be available here, but are still a novelty and very useful. Steve's other idea -- Italian gourmet items -- is also worth considering.

        Over the years I have given expensive maple syrup, only to find that people either don't appreciate it or don't know what to do with it. Good peanut butter is a great gift for someone you know likes it -- it's practically impossible to find in Italy -- but useless for someone who thinks Nutella is the greatest. In general, Italians cook Italian food and the products that Americans very rightly think are great will just never be used. Of course, if you know your relatives like to bake (or barbecue, or something), that's different.

        Baking powder could be a good gift for Americans living in Italy but not for Italians, who don't need it. I wouldn't bother with vanilla extract unless you know the people will use it.
        And Italians don't usually appreciate hard liquor. Very good US wines could be an idea.

      2. Good maple syrup - Italians tend to be fascinated by this - then you could make pancakes or french toast for your relatives - "brunch" is something fun that they are not used to.
        Also - this seems kind of silly, but, Ziploc bags. They don't have ziplocs here and whenever my Italian friends see them, they always ask me to bring them some - I don't know how they live without them! :-)

        Btw - we have baking powder here, it is just sold in little packets instead of a tub like Clabber Girl... and Italian recipes usually call for one of these packets instead of teaspoons so they don't have to measure it.


        1 Reply
        1. re: LifeItalianStyle

          Ziploc bags are not at all silly. It is incredible that we don't have them in Italy, and another thing we don't have is heavy-duty aluminum foil (and now I've discovered non-stick heavy-duty foil in the US, so I bring that back too) and waxed paper.

          I wouldn't waste the maple syrup.

        2. Wild rice. Very American. You would have to cook it for them. It would go well with a porkchop, or something cooked with maple syrup.

          1 Reply
          1. re: beaulieu

            Sweets! Over the years I received some fabulous chocolate pralines from special shops in the US, high end chocolate, lovely. I have loved artisan pecorino from Maine and Ice wine from Canada and indeed good vanilla extract which is very hard to come by here. Do you know if you relatives like exotic food of any sort? How I miss a jar of decent Mexican salsa! Tortilla chips are all the rage at the moment but teh salsa is mediocre to say the least. And by the way we love maple syrup but we are not standard Italians :) .

          2. My vote would be for peanut butter, esp chunky style. Nutella and other hazelnut chocolate spreads they have in droves, but not so much peanut butter.

            1. First of all, to reply to Maureen and Jennifer below: Ikea has ziploc bags!!!

              Here are some things to think about bringing:
              -Artisan chocolates or caramels
              -Hot Sauce
              -Microplane graters
              -Pecans (already mentioned)
              -Bourbon or Rye
              -Artisan Bitters (if your friends like cocktails)
              -local jam

              I always ask for a large container of Advil, but not sure that counts as food!


              1. I have a friend who has an olive grove, he produces great EVOO. The one excellent item we have, that I brought over, was pure Grade B Amber Vermont Maple Syrup. His family raved about it.

                4 Replies
                1. re: treb

                  I brought microplanes once but that was some years ago and I am pretty sure they sell them at Gusto now.
                  Last year I brought local hot sauce. I've thought about Tupelo honey but haven't done it.

                  If they have kids I like to bring picture books with easy English.

                  1. re: jangita

                    Microplanes and Kitchen Aid tools are available in good cooking shops, even our Grancasa in rural Umbria has them. However they make great gifts if your hosts like to cook. Years ago someone from California gave me a reusable non stick baking liner. Those are more difficult to find and I love it. Even my cooking class guests from North America often don't now what it is and promise to buy one when they go back home!

                    1. re: madonnadelpiatto

                      Not food, but every year when we go to Padova, my friends really like things like the "Leatherman" multi tool, ones that I saw in Italy retail for upwards of Euro 60-75, you can get in the U.S. for about half that amount. Last Christmas West Marine, boating stores had a really nice model for $25.99. A really quality made compact knife/multi tool made in USA. Some of my friends in the Veneto are either hikers or boaters and appreciate the engineering that goes into this little tool.

                  2. re: treb

                    Thank you. I am a Vermonter and whenever I travel to Italy, more and more people request syrup. I even took a picture of a fiumiccino airport staff woman behind a help/info desk taking shots of VT syrup. She coaxed me to open a bottle I had as a gift after I gave her a maple candy, and then actually kept asking if she could buy my syrup even though I said it was for my friends (it was just a tiny bottle). I promised her if in the future I saw her at the airport, (now in a week) I would hook her up. Come to think of it... Time to stock up on Syrup.