Whenever I fly back home, I send an email to friends and family asking if there is anything in particular they would like from Spain. 95% of the time, the answer is “Jamon!” Of course, what they probably don’t realize (or they do, but just don’t care) that you aren’t allowed to bring back meat or fruit to the US; not unless you want them thrown away right in front of your eyes! The second most requested is wine, but frankly, I am not thrilled at the thought of the bottle breaking in my suitcase, since I’ve seen how the baggage handlers “gently” toss your suitcase onto the plane. Not to say that it can’t be done, as many have successfully carried a whole case, but it’s a bit daunting for my taste.
Therefore, I suggest a different, and less obvious list of goodies from Spain that are absolutely incredible, and you will probably be the belle of the ball if you dish them out at your next dinner party!
Most of the products I list make for easy travel, since they are canned; if you weren’t aware, Spaniards are wizards at canning, vegetables, meats, even fish!
1. Pimientos de Piquillo
These small, fire red peppers are a delicacy! From Navarra, a region in the north of Spain, they are an heirloom variety of peppers that are mainly eaten roasted, along with beef, and stuffed with a variety of fillings. My personal favorite is Piquillo peppers stuffed with Cod Brandade, but don’t just listen to me, there is a panoply of fillings, such as beef, mushrooms, shrimp, tuna, mixed seafood, even jamon! A great brand to look out for is “La Leyenda”.
2. White “Cojonudo” Asparagus
Cojonudo in Spanish loosely translates into awesome. Story goes, when King Juan Carlos was served a plate of these canned white asparagus, he said, “Estan Cojonudos” (They’re awesome!). From there on after, this type of white asparagus is labeled as “Esparragos Cojonudos”….Awesome Asparagus! They really are too! Also from Navarra, you can buy them whole (the entire stalk) or just the tips. Served alone with some olive oil and sea salt, or on a salad, they are truly delicious. Some good brands are “El Navarrico” and “Lodosa”.
Berberechos are Cockles, and we eat a lot of them in Spain. Smaller than clams, I find them to be tastier and sweeter. The canned variety can be found in any good tapas bar, vermuteria and household. Served in their own juice, most people add a mild hot sauce, such as “Salsa Espinaler” which is like Tabasco Light. If you want to be original, you can mix the cockles with some tabasco sauce and cream cheese, a heavenly dip! Good brands are “Espinaler” and “Ramon Peña”. For something completely different, you can also get Berberechos con Gengibre (cockles with ginger) from “Porto Muiños”.
4. Anchoas Del Cantabrico
Anchovies. Yes, I can hear the collective gasp and “Eeeew”. I myself felt the same way about anchovies, until I tried a quality Spanish anchovy. It has no similarity to what we get in the United States. Lovingly canned, side by side, they are fat, wide fillets with very little bones. I go crazy over them! Literally, my mouth starts to water when I envision them. So please, give them a second chance! I suggest you eat them on a slice of warm and crusty bread, with a drizzle of excellent olive oil. My favorite brands are “Ramon Peña” and “Don Bocarte”.
Saffron in Spain is still expensive, but it’s worth it because it will only be more expensive back home. You can find saffron in most supermarkets, but I recommend going to a gourmet deli. It will be better quality than the supermarket variety. What I do get from the supermarket is powdered saffron, which is a box containing 4-5 tiny containers with probably .5 of an ounce. But, if you want to spare your expensive saffron, you can always use the powdered for color and taste, and then complement with some threads. A good brand is “Pote”.
I truly hope this list is both useful and interesting for you. Clearly, the list is biased and filled with my personal favorites, different to what most people would think of taking home. However, I guarantee you will bring huge smiles to your family and friends if they receive one or all of these gifts!
Check out Portugal’s Top 5 Gifts to Bring Home!