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Tips for NYC area food souvenirs (ingredients or products)?

I write a popular blog about travel and "souvenir" shopping-- it's not all about food, but food definitely makes a great souvenir. It's been easy to write about foreign places I visit because I know what I can/can't get here in NYC.

But I'm finding it hard to figure out what to write about here in NYC (or in the USA for that matter) because I'm not really sure about availability elsewhere. I look for things that reflect the region-- I do some research on the background of an item, go to the store and photograph it and the surrounding area so the reader can get a feel for the experience and put it in context so it's more than just a "thing".

For NYC, one of the items I was thinking of are bagels of course-- wasn't sure which bagelry would best represent "classic" NYC bagels. Maybe black and white cookies too? Not sure what else?

I also like to focus on an ingredient, then photograph a recipe you can make back home (eg I bought paprika in Budapest came home made goulash). Are there certain ingredients you can only get in the area?

Thanks for any tips!

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  1. The first thing that pops to mind is Fox's U-Bet Syrup for egg creams.

    Sounds like you're only interested in non-perishables, is that right? Are you taking into account various import regulations or TSA rules?

    I know various ex-pat friends have things they always miss from the USA, that might be a good angle.

    Did you do a search on this?


    NYC food souvenirs:

    Local NYC gift ideas?

    New ideas for NYC food gifts that can travel well.

    What to take for friends in SF?

    Gift Guide: Food Gifts in New York

    Gift Guide: Easy to Ship, Only in New York Foods

    9 Replies
    1. re: kathryn

      Thanks Kathryn, very helpful.

      After I posted I thought "oh let me try a search," (duh!) so I've been reading through some threads-- I hadn't found the Serious Eats links you pointed to, so those are v. helpful too.

      My question is a little different too because I'm looking to make shopping part of the "experience"-- it's not just about grabbing the stuff at one purveyor, but maybe visiting a spot where you can get a sense of the history/uniqueness behind it. So I'd rather recommend a bakery that feels "New York" that would inspire someone to go there. My posts are very photo-oriented too.

      So maybe the question is more-- what place would make a good story to write about bagels, b&w cookies, pickles, etc?

      Egg creams sound perfect! I'll find a nyc spot that does them well (ideas?), photograph the experience, then show you can bring it home by buying the Fox U-Bet.

      Re: perishables-- I wlll write about cakes or bagels that you should buy on the the last day or morning you leave. But I need to draw the line at recommending stuff to be put on ice (I personally had a bad experience with this trying to bring NC bbq home). 70% of my readers are from the US (next is the UK), but the rest are worldwide.

      Re: TSA-- I give packing tips for liquids, but I try not to recommend wine/liquor if there are other options.

        1. re: Kikinyc

          Try RGR's self guided Lower East Side Gustatory tour but sub in Pickle Guys for Guss' Pickles and note that Economy Candy's address is incorrect:

          Eisenberg's for egg creams might make for some nice photos.

          1. re: Kikinyc

            So maybe the question is more-- what place would make a good story to write about bagels, b&w cookies, pickles, etc?

            How about NY-style egg rolls?

            Mee Noodle Shop or Jing Fong might be good places to start to sample this particular style of the classic Chinese American staple.

            1. re: ipsedixit

              You bring home egg rolls as souvenirs or gifts? :)

              1. re: kathryn

                If I could I'd be really popular with a select few LA 'hounds!

            2. re: Kikinyc

              Kossar's Bialys would make for a great experience and story

              1. re: Kikinyc

                I'm a frequent tourist and I always like going to the food emporium in Grand Central. It's about as New York as it gets plus you can hit up the oyster bar for lunch.

                1. re: Berheenia

                  I'm definitely doing GCT-- my office is across the street and I eat at the oyster bar all the time.

            3. Often you can buy things in NYC that aren't American but are unusual in Western countries and have ethnic atmosphere and products, eg Sahadi's on Atlantic in Bkn, Kalyustian's (sp?) on Lexington, and the Chinese supermarket on Elizabeth just south of Grand (or the one on Canal), and Pearl River Department store on Broadway.

                1. re: villainx

                  It ought, x. I just sent a quart of (Union Sq.-bought) Deep Mountain 'A' maple syrup and a funky 'pepper infused' version they make now to my brother and his family in Addis Ababa; they're celebrating the kids' spring break this week in Harar with a fresh batch of wholewheat pancakes slathered in the stuff.

                  I have to say I'm a little skeptical of how well semi-perishables -e.g. bialys, donuts, bagels, black&whites- work as souvenirs. I suppose if you're carrying these gifts to places within a six-hour flight radius of NYC and then insisting they be consumed within a day, then, OK. But there's a degree of passive-aggression expressed even in that transaction ("enjoy my gift *now*!") that leaves me cold -it's very NY-ish, of course, but, you know, still cold.

                  And, @Kiki: NYState is and has always been considered a part of New England -just deconstruct the name.

                  1. re: Phil Ogelos

                    thanks for the tips!

                    My bad re: New York-- I can't even remember what I said but I actually meant that I wasn't intending to cover them in nyc based posts. An upstate post would be fine.

                    I don't often do quick perishables, but make exceptions-- my mom likes to visit and bring home a dozen bagels to freeze, for example. With the cookies I'm going to have to investigate how long they'll last for.

                    My readers also like ideas about inexpensive things to bring back to the office to share with everyone on return (to thank your coworkers for covering for you). A batch of cookies certainly fits.

                    I bring back quick perishables for myself too-- even if it's just the next morning, enjoying a baked good from Europe the first day home with my coffee is a way of extending the vacation feeling. I wouldn't dream of gifting anyone a quick perishable they hadn't specifically requested.

                    Also, food items are just one of the many souvenirs I cover on my site- most of the entries are things (like yukatas from Japan, Liberty shirts from London etc). Sometimes the thing itself is less significant than the story behind it-- I like to research things/food items and provide some background about why it represents the area.

                2. I often see people mention egg creams and bialies as typical NY foods. I have lived here over 20 years and to me they are just not part of modern day NYC. What, are there two places in Manhattan to get acceptable versions of either of them? (Gem and Kossar's) The only worse rec of a "NYC" food that no one actually eats would be a knish.

                  I don't think I know anyone under the age of 80 who regularly enjoys either.

                  1. Thanks to all for taking the time to respond-- some great ideas here.

                    re: egg creams, bialys and pickles-- great suggestions, I was also thinking maybe Lexington candy shop would be good to feature-- in my old hood too. I could do a couple of places, photogenic is always a plus!

                    re: gforceny's comment about no one eating bialys/egg creams-- that may be true, and even more of a reason I would choose to feature the items (a chance to experience a bit of NY's past before it completely disappears).

                    This is true for not just NYC but for all of the areas I cover-- e.g., locals in Budapest aren't running out to get hungarian lace necessarily, but a tourist might have more interest in learning about those traditions (before they are lost forever).

                    That said, I also cover modern traditions, so if you have any ideas for modern food souvenirs I'd love those too (I'll probably cover Levain or Momofuku cookies for example).

                    re: ethnic food souvenirs-- while "americanized" Chinese or americanized Italian would be something I would feature because that would be the NY twist on them, I would not feature ethnic things you can buy here-- because I would feature those in the original country.

                    Lol don't think I could feature egg rolls to take home though!

                    But, and I am getting beyond the scope of my original question, I do have a section on my blog called "quick bites" in which I cover a few of my favorite quick pit stops when I visit a city-- so much tourist stuff is geared toward the best restaurants but I know when I'm running around a new city I don't have hours to kill lingering over lunch so I love quick options that are centrally located-- like if a tourist was there anyway sightseeing or touring-- not some out of the way spot way out in a borough (which are easy enough to find on sites like this). So if anyone has suggestions for those too, they are welcome. An example I did for Vienna were the awesome wurst stands everywhere-- fantastic to grab a bite while touring.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: Kikinyc

                      wow, are you my friend in Budapest who is a famous food blogger? =)
                      how about Manhattan coffee soda....i haven't seen that in awhile though..or Dr Brown's cream soda or celery soda.

                      1. re: Monica

                        Lol not exactly famous yet! : ) I do love Budapest though, I would love to see your friend's blog.

                        Great ideas on the sodas-- not the best souvenir in terms of transport but I make exceptions for originality-- love that the espresso soda dates back 100 years.

                        1. re: Kikinyc


                          She came out in Bizarre food with Andrew Zimmern.

                          She is too busy for me now..haha..but before she became ultra famous, I had an honor of sleeping and eating with her at her apt for a few days. nicest and sweetest person.

                          I bring wines from Europe...i am sure a few bottles of coffee soda will be alright in check in luggage.

                      2. re: Kikinyc

                        Midtown lunch is a great resource that now covers way beyond midtown with quick $10 and under lunch ideas and honest reviews

                        Chelsea market, the plaza food hall, and seasonal food stands like madison square eats are also eat on the go options...

                        1. re: Ttrockwood

                          Thanks, forgot about midtown lunch, that is a good site. I'm planning to write on Chelsea market-- Madison square is a great idea too.

                        2. re: Kikinyc

                          Some suggestions here, you'll probably have to sift through...

                          Some common tourist inquiries:

                          Where to Eat Near Times Square:

                          Where to Eat Near MoMA (the museum cafe is actually pretty good, as is the Modern next door):

                          Where to Eat Near Museum Mile (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney, Guggenheim, etc) on the UES:

                          Where to Eat Near the Museum of Natural History on the UWS:

                          Where to Eat Near Macy's/Herald Square/Penn Station/Empire State Building:

                          Where to Eat Near Grand Central/Midtown East:

                          Where to Eat in Soho:

                          Where to Eat near 5th Avenue shopping / Bloomingdale's / Rockefeller Center:

                          Where to have dinner before a Broadway show/pre-theatre dining (many of the same Times Square recs also apply):

                          Where to Eat Near the 9/11 Memorial:

                          Notable food trucks/carts:

                          1. re: kathryn

                            Kathryn this is beyond helpful, exactly the resources I need. I do a lot of museum shops so those recs are very helpful too. I've heard the modern is great but haven't been so this will be a great excuse-- research!

                            1. re: kathryn

                              wow, Kathryn, you are amazing! I have filed all of these links- super duper! Thx so much.
                              I did this for Boston a few yrs ago:

                              Guide to Boston by Areas and Restaurants:


                          2. I second visiting Kalyustan and Grand Central Market for inspiration. The pantry at Marlow and Daughter or a visit to one of the others in Brooklyn would probably turn up less typical ideas.

                            I'd go Bialey over Bagels.... it's more focused, and they're also more alien to people outside NY. Suggesting bagels isn't going to blow anyones mind.

                            What about cider, or cider donuts?
                            NY Babkas are pretty mythical.
                            Syrups for drinks are nice, and you can make recipes to figure out what the heck to do with them.
                            I second the pickles idea.
                            Manhattan Soda is pretty unique.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: sugartoof

                              All great ideas, thanks. I'll probably end up doing both bialys and bagels in the end. Cider (and cider donuts) I associate more with New England, but good idea for when I get around to that.

                              Noting all your suggestions, thank you!

                              1. re: Kikinyc

                                NY State and apples go hand in hand, otherwise you're right.

                            2. kiki,what great ideas for topics here! I had one thought- not exactly what you requested, but similar:

                              A different article might be geared toward food tourists interested in history--featuring some of NYC's oldest food establishments. Any old favorite that has something to do with food, whether it be a certain style of pizza, or pickles, or ice cream or a soda fountain or diner or certain sandwiches, or a candy factory, or the first puerto rican chinese restnt, etc.