At Food Republic, we would never encourage you to break the law. We love America! And its exceptionally strict import laws that keep us safe from antiquated health epidemics!
Still, much to the dismay of locavores, Toby Keith’s lyricists and globalized corporations like Kraft (producer of “Parmesan-style grated cheese”), the world’s best ingredients, foods and beverages are not always available stateside. It’s worth going nose to nose with your local airport’s baggage-sniffing legal beagles to bring back top international culinary souvenirs. Here’s where to find the top five.
South Africa: Biltong
The country that brought you Charlize Theron, and Matt Damon as a believable professional athlete, also provides the gold standard by which all dried meat snacks should be measured. Cured in cider vinegar and seasoned with coriander and black pepper, biltong brings honor to the name jerky. At the weekly Neighbourgoods Markets in Cape Town and Joburg, independent producers sell biltong made from local cows and springbok that are well-wrapped and carry-on friendly.
A French culinary institution since the early 1700s, the creamy eponymous mustard in Dijon will make you hope nearby motorists don’t have any Grey Poupon. Dijon is technically an AOC product, but imposters bearing its name crowd American grocery shelves like so many tangy yellow Elvis impersonators. It’s worth seeking out the real deal in Burgundy, where the historic Boutique Maille once tempted no more discerning a culinary shopper than M.F.K. Fisher.
Trying to comprehend the complexities of Chinese tea is like reading Kafka: it’s fascinating and complex and you’re never quite sure you fully understand what’s going on. Go into the belly of the beast at Beijing’s Maliandao Tea Market, where vendors offer free samples to help you navigate over 900 stalls selling native pu’er, jasmine, oolong, white and green tea leaves.
More akin to cognac than the cloying Caribbean rums served in college bars across America, Haiti’s signature spirit packs a punch when sipped neat. Dark distillations from Rhum Barbancourt can occasionally be found stateside, but the epically potent white rum clairin (also written klerin) is only available on-island. Slip a bottle or two of Port au Prince’s Clairin Lakay in your suitcase to bring home a true taste of the tropics.
Canada: Okanagan Valley Wine
Due to changes in strict regional liquor laws (Canadians: They’re just like us!), British Columbia recently began cultivating Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the Okanagan Valley. The resulting bottles from award-winning vineyards like Mission Hill in West Kelowna have a unique terroir and dollar-friendly price point unlike those of comparable American and European vintages.