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Whatever you do, don’t pass through customs with my mother. I swear she was blacklisted years back at the Detroit airport when she tried to bring a bone-in leg of prosciutto back in the country and, ever since, it’s like she has the plague because we often become guilty by proximity.
Call it overcompensation but I tend to go overboard on the souvenirs when I’m not traveling with her. Since I’m not at such a high risk of getting nabbed at the border, I go all out on the souvenirs and bring back a carry-on bag worth of souvenirs. And, since everything we do here at Salt & Wind is food-focused, well, the majority of those souvenirs are food.
One such place I go to town with souvenirs is when I travel to Basque Country. I blame my Southern California roots for being the most drawn to regions that have a mishmash of cultures. The mix of people, flavors, and places are so fluid in Southern California and I find that there’s a certain energy, creativity, and uniqueness that it creates.
My last trip to Basque Country was epic when it came to food as I got to hop back and forth between Spain and France and eat my favorite flavors from both countries. Here’s a selection of some of the food I ate, all of which I brought back with me as food souvenirs — now if I can only make it last until I can next get back to Basque Country.
Famous Foods From Basque Country
The mix of part French, part Spanish, and fully Basque means this corner of Europe has flavors that are from all over the area. Yes, you can buy a lot of these ingredients stateside these days but you pay the price to have them imported for you so I still recommend you bring them back when you travel. Here are essential souvenirs to buy to get a taste of Basque Country in your home:
These famous olives are grown in the South of Spain — specifically from Catalonia — but you’ll find them served with everything from your aperitif to tapas when you travel to Spain. The fruity and buttery taste of the olives is a match in heaven with great jamón, by the way.
Seafood lovers can attest that the tuna belly is one of the most prized cuts of fish out there. Here it’s preserved in quality olive oil which makes it delicious on its own or served as a part of a classic Niçoise Salad or mixed with roasted peppers for an easy side.
Travel in the countryside from Italy to Spain in the Fall and you’ll see the ground covered with chestnuts. While there are few things more delicious than roasted chestnuts, we’re partial to them candied. Here chestnuts from the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia are coated in a vanilla-tinged syrup and they make an ideal holiday treat!
Right alongside candied chestnuts, another traditional treat that makes an appearance during the holidays is turrón. Made by mixing together egg whites, honey, toasted Marcona almonds, and orange blossom, this is a not-too-sweet dessert that is one of our absolute favorites around here. The company 1880 from Alicante, Spain is considered among the best producers and we couldn’t agree more.
These Spanish almonds likely need no introduction as they’ve taken over in the US and are not seen everywhere from restaurant menus to Trader Joe’s! But to clarify the Marcona is a variety of almonds grown along the Spanish Mediterranean coast that is sweeter and rounder than what we see stateside. These almonds are often blanched, fried in olive oil, salted, and served as a quick snack.
Two of our favorite Spanish ingredients are the sardines from Galicia and the sweet piquillo peppers from the Basque region of Navarra. Here they’re packed together for what makes quite possibly the most delicious canned snack of all time.
If there is one flavor that reigns supreme across Basque Country, I’d say it’s the sweet, earthy flavor of the Espelette chili. These chilis are grown through the Pyrenees foothills and are strung to dry from the regions’ buildings. Some of the most classic Basque dishes — piperade, and Basque chicken — are what they are thanks to this chili powder but I equally like it as a topping for scrambled eggs or tossed with pasta, butter, and flaky salt.
If there were one wine that is most representative of Spanish Euskadi — aka Spanish Basque Country — it’d be Txakoli. This super quaffable light wine is usually fresh, low alcohol, effervescent, and ever so slightly salty, which makes it the most perfect accompaniment to olive oil-laden tapas.
Okay, that’s it for my list of must-have food souvenirs. Got any to add? Write them in the comments below!
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