Food and vacation, two delightful words make an even better combination. Local cuisines and savouries form an integral part of the travel experience and if you can bring back a few to relish them at home, then why not.
Food or local cuisine of a place has always been a great way to experience the heritage and culture of that region. Even according to a global report, the average tourist spends around a third of a holiday budget on food. With rapid globalisation of the modern society, people are not only interested in locally curated foods but also the history related to it.
The young Indian traveller is now more inclined towards venturing to foreign destinations for holidays and experiencing the cultural aspects of the place. They are also being experimental enough to venture out and try the different cuisines served by the places to enhance their experience.
“Food as souvenirs make for excellent gifts as food invokes memories, and it’s always nice to get something that will revive your memories through the taste buds,’’ says Kolkata-based food blogger Poorna Banerjee.
Dates and dry fruits from Dubai
Dubai is one of the most popular destinations for Indians, especially the first-time travellers. The city has a lot to offer not only in terms of entertainment and activities, but also cuisines. Reflecting its resident population that hails from nearly 170 nations around the world, Dubai has a uniquely rich collection of restaurants that can serve up practically all the cuisines known to humankind. The range extends to the savouries that the tourists can take along with them. From the world famous Dubai dates and spices to the home-grown camel milk chocolate, you can browse through diverse delicacies to bring back home. Dates are an important part of Middle-eastern culture and also play a prominent role during Ramadan as they are eaten at the end of the fast.
There are over 20 varieties of dates to choose from and among them Khidri, Sokari, Medjool are few of the favourites. You may stop by the raisin displays and observe the different kind of raisins before buying them. There are also the sun-dried Muscat raisins, oven-dried sweet Sultana raisins and the darker aromatic ones. For almonds, too, one can choose between the sweet ones as dry fruit, and bitter ones, which are used in food-preparation and for cooking oil. Though it is better to avoid the bitter almonds as they are toxic in their raw form and need to be treated before being used in culinary application.
You can also venture into the famous Spice Souk, a colourful and aromatic treasure trove of popular as well as rare spices. Sold loose as well as packaged, one should use all your bargaining skills in order to get the best deal. You can also visit Al Nassma Chocolate, the UAE’s first and only camel milk chocolate brand. The camelshaped ones even make for a quirky souvenir and available in varieties like whole milk, nuts and 70 pc cocoa, dates, macadamia and spiced Arabic.
Spices and Turkish delights from Istanbul
The erstwhile capital of the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires, Istanbul is a rich potpourri of European as well as Islamic cultures. The city, sitting on the Bosphorous Strait, has countless monuments dating back over 1000 years. The commercial capital of Turkey will not disappoint you when it comes to food shopping as well, as it has something for everyone. Turkish teas for tea lovers, Turkish delight for the ones with a sweet tooth and spices for the culinary masters. Turkish cuisine is known for its distinct flavours generated by the myriad spices that help to enhance the aroma and taste.
If you have fallen in love with Turkish cuisine or need some spices, then head to the Spice Bazaar or Grand Bazaar and bring back some spices like biber (pepper), sumak (sumac), kofte bahari (meat balls) and balikbaharat ( a spice mix).
The Turkish delight or lokum, a sweet confectionary, is made of sugar and starch with added fruits and nuts. It comes in different sizes and shapes along with various flavours like pistachio, rosewater, cinnamon, mint, orange and lemon. You can visit Hacı Bekir, that has been in this business since 18th century.
Chocolates and cheese from Switzerland
Switzerland is the leading exporter of chocolate in the world while Nestle and Lindt are the biggest chocolate brands there. You can visit the stores of the brands to find different flavours which are uniquely sold there. You can also get a box of truffles from Sprungli, one of the first chocolate companies in Zurich. A visit to the local market will also provide you with the taste of locally made chocolate which also promises quality products.
Switzerland is also the place where you can get some of the best cheese in Europe. There is a wide variety of quality cheese to choose from. The only concern is that cheese is not the easiest thing to travel with due to its smell, preservation aspects as well as customs. So it is better to get the dry, hard cheese for souvenirs.
Instant foods and sweets from Tokyo
Japan is a food lover’s delight just because the instant food and sweets are not only delicious to eat but also easy to pack into your luggage! The instant ramen noodles, instant osuimono (Japanese clear soup) and the various instant curries- all are easily available and affordable too. The instant curry like Kobe beef and king crab are favourites while you can also get fruit flavoured ones like strawberry, melon and orange.
Japanese sweets and confections are not only delicious but also come in different shapes. You can get the small round daifuku made of mocha (rice cake) with a sweet filling or the chick-shaped pastry meika hiyoko from the Tokyo Hiyoko sweet shops at major train stations and airports or try the egg shaped goma tomago , which literally translates to sesame egg, with a white egg-shell of chocolate covering a layer of sponge cake and a filling of sesame seed and sweet bean.
For the ones who love chocolate and mainly Kitkat, Tokyo may be a wonderland for them as you get more than 300 flavours produced in Japan! It is a real hard decision to make as you not only have the all-time favourites like strawberry, nuts and apple but also Japanese specials like green tea, wasabi (Japanese horseradish) and sakura (cherry blossom). It is not only your favourite chocolate with a twist but also conveniently available at supermarkets and stores.
Dried food from Bangkok
Thailand is home for one of the most popular dried seaweed companies, Tao Kae Noi. The dried seaweed comes in different varieties like fried, grilled and roasted with different flavours ranging from classic to spicy. They are available as rolls as well as sheet. Even dried fish strips can be found in Bangkok in tons of flavours like kimchi, salmon, seaweed and such.
Meat jerky from Singapore
One of the best souvenirs to bring back home from Singapore is bak-kwa or meat jerky, thin strips of lean meat from which all fat has been removed. It is commonly made with beef and pork and comes in large rectangular sheets. Though it is easily available on the streets, you need to be careful to get the fresh ones. They are also available in vacuum packs for easier carrying. Another form of the same you can try is the pork floss which is soft and fluffy in nature. It would be good if you also check your local immigration rules as bak-kwa is a Chinatown speciality mostly made of pork and may be not allowed in few countries.
Tips for food shopping by Food Blogger
• Think about what the person likes. Do they like something sweet or savoury? Do they have any special preferences? Would they like something safe like chocolates or something unconventional like difficult-to-find food, interesting ingredients or elegant delicacies? Also, are they allergic to something, or do not eat something?
• Shopping local may be a good idea if you have someone local with you. Typically, if you are unsure about what to buy, just get inside a supermarket, and arm yourself with Google translate, if the language isn’t English. I typically purchase a lot of food from supermarkets, because in most parts of the world, there is some helpful store staff who knows English.
• Also do a bit of research before shopping for food. If you are going to a country, learn a bit about their food culture, ingredients, and snacks to make informed choices. You shouldn’t just go and buy something because you think it’s cool as it could turn out to be a total waste of money. Also, look around a few stores and compare prices and products before buying. That will help you make a more informed decision.
• Also fix a budget for what you want to purchase and stick to it. One tip. Don’t buy food from souvenir shops even though many places have these packaged mixes like herbs and spices. Often these are only there as tourist traps and don’t offer anything authentic. Rather, do a little bit of research and find a local market to shop from.