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Red Beans and Advice, Memorial Day Edition
Tips for your culinary souvenirs
Happy Memorial Day! As my holiday treat to you, I’m making this edition of Red Beans and Advice available to all subscribers. If you enjoy it, please think about becoming a paid subscriber. You’ll get Red Beans every Monday, plus other features during the week. Thanks and enjoy your day.
From my friends' social media accounts, this looks like a big season for major travel is underway. I have several sets of friends in Italy, including Mark Remillard (above), some in Japan, others in Paris, and even one friend who trekked to the base camp for Mount Everest.
Food lovers are bound to visit far away places and want to bring things back, whether it's the spice they tasted on a tagine, a delectable olive oil or a piece of copper cooking equipment. (Take at look at writer Stacey Ballis’ Instagram account for multiple examples of things she recently brought home from Europe.)
Despite the fun these things may give you, there are some practical considerations to bringing home food souvenirs.
Here are some questions to think about.
1) How much space do you have in your luggage, especially if you plan to only use a carry on suitcase and tote bag? The first thing to figure out is, "Will it fit?" That's especially important now that airlines are charging steep prices to check bags. And even if it fits, your metal cooking vessel could easily send your bag's weight off the charts, and then that bargain piece stops looking like such a deal.
2) Will it survive if you check it? Some friends have confidently taken cooler bags onto airplanes and stashed baked goods in their rollaboard. I once brought home securely wrapped fried chicken from the High Hat in New Orleans. But airlines are getting stern about carry ons, and you can bet that with full flights this summer, you could be asked to check an excess bag that might have slipped through in a slower season. Think about what happens if your precious cargo winds up out of your hands.
3) Can you buy it at home or online? Many travelers get a rush of discovering spices and condiments during their trips, and load up their bags, only to discover that they could have bought it down the street. Amazon has become a resource for countless items that once had to be purchased in person, and there are all kinds of specialty grocery sites with global foods. Before you commit suitcase space, do some Googling and talk to the proprietor. It's true that it might be fresher from the source, but you could regret the effort.
4) Can the shop ship it for you? I had fantastic luck living in Japan, where package shipping is as much an art form as gift wrapping. Bingoya, one of my favorite Tokyo shops, sent a basket full of purchases home for me. Many shops are happy to accommodate visitors. The famous French kitchen store E. Dehillerin once shipped me a crate of my purchases, each intricately wrapped and then packaged in straw. If you can have it sent, all the better.
5) Is it worth the price of shipping? Pre-Covid, I got into the habit of traveling with packing tape and scissors in my checked suitcase, finding spare boxes on site, packing things up and then summoning Fedex. But I realized I was spending two and three times the value of the package to send it home. Sometimes you have to have it; other times, the shipping cost simply doesn't justify it.
I’d love to hear about your favorite travel purchases. Have a great holiday!