5@5 is a food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.
For most of the past decade, I was on the road. I was a travel writer, working primarily for the New York Times (where I was the Frugal Traveler), and also for several other publications, including Saveur and Afar magazines. As I ranged from Buenos Aires to Gdansk to Chongqing, I was so hungry for the experience of new, great food that I quickly realized I couldn't just return to my nominal home in Brooklyn, without bringing back a taste of my adventures.
Flouting U.S. Customs regulations (or, really, just not bothering to find out what they might be) I sought out these five essential ingredients that travel well, last long and offer up pungent memories of far-flung lands.
Five Essential Foods to "Smuggle" Home: Matt Gross
In the Caribbean, I seek out local markets for homemade, unlabeled bottles of what they call “pepper sauce.” It's vinegary, flush with the power of Scotch bonnet chilies and often made by the women who are selling them. Getting them home in my luggage requires a bit more care than with the dried chilies, but it’s nothing a few layers of plastic bags can’t handle.
2. Italian Chocolate
You see chocolate bars all over, often at gelaterie like Fiordiluna in the Trastevere neighborhood. Said, my mainstay, has been in business since 1923 and I often I get their chocolate with peperoncino. As I write this, I realize my supply is dwindling - time to book another flight!
3. Olive oil
Beyond these individual flavors, this is also an intriguing sign of how developing countries are learning to market their strengths to food-loving Western visitors.
Got an ingredient you always bring home from your travels? Share it in the comments below.
Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.