Sure, you know many Italians are fastidious about the quality of the ingredients they cook with. After all, who wouldn't be in a country where finding pasta extruded through bronze dyes is nearly as easy as finding sugar-coated cereal is in America? But just because the country’s farmer’s markets are a force to be reckoned with doesn’t mean that they’re the only place Italians do their grocery shopping.
Ever since the first supermarket opened in Milan in the 1950s, Italians have been flocking to the shiny, efficient modern buildings. While grocery stores remain largely regional (Esselunga in the North, Coop in Center, Conad in the South), you’ll find a similar selection of uniquely Italian products throughout the country. Here are the unique ingredients that should be on your souvenir list:
Nutella In Glass Jars
Sure, you realize sugar-packed Nutella tastes the same around the world (despite the recent ingredient change), but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pick up a jar of the iconic spread.
Invented in Alba, Piedmont it was originally a solid block of cocoa-hazelnut pastethat mothers would slice and place atop bread for their children’s afternoon snack—of course the kids would throw away the bread and eat only the chocolate. Realizing that mothers wouldn’t buy a product that didn’t give their kids at least some nutrition, Pietro Ferrero added milk to turn it into a spread.
With a jar sold every 2.5 seconds, to say it’s been a hit is an understatement. Pick up a small glass jar, which you can use as a water glass afterwards. Be aware that you’ll need to check your suitcase in to take it on the plane.
Triple Concentrated Tomato Paste
In the States, the most concentrated tomato paste you're likely to find is double concentrated. And you’ll taste the difference. On it’s own triple concentrated tomato paste is mouth-puckeringly acidic, but stirred into soups, pasta sauces and stews it’s adds a depth of flavor otherwise missing.
Most Italians drink coffee, but production is still highly regional and you’re likely to find the local coffee roaster stocked in the local supermarket—alongside international brands like Lavazza and Illy, of course.
There’s a wide variety of different grinds and styles available. If you tend to avoid whole bean coffees, consider getting the hard-to-find moka grind designed to be brewed in the iconic Bialetti moka pot. It’s more coarsely ground than espresso, but more fine than drip.
Small Packs Of Anchovies
If you insist on tossing a few anchovies to any dish for a salty depth, consider picking up a couple small packages of anchovies. Since they’re a common ingredient in Italy, the quality is better than what you find at an American grocery store and they’re far cheaper than at specialty markets. In addition, the thin packages are the perfect size if you just want to add a whisper of fishy saltiness to a meal without feeling like you’re eating the ocean.
Breakfast Cookies / Fette Biscottate
It won’t take you more than a single breakfast to realize that Italians prefer their morning meal sweet. While this is changing, especially in the North, crunchy cookies are still a cornerstone of Italian breakfasts. The options even in a small grocery store are staggering. You’ll find ones with chocolate, with fruit, with whole grains, with icing. You’ll find individually packaged cookies and family-sized bags.
If you need help deciding, know that Plasmon cookies are a classic kid-approved choice, Mulino Bianco pioneered the category and that anything with chocolate is generally considered an extreme indulgence in Italy. If you can’t stomach sweets in the morning, pick up a pack of crumbly fette biscottate (toasted breads), which you can spread with everything from butter to smoked fish.
Getting a cold is a delight, so long as you have richly flavored Golia to soothe your throat. These Italian coffee drops come in a range of flavors from coffee and mint to bitter herbal varieties that taste like an amaro got compressed into hard candy. While you’ll be able to pick them up at tabacchi, you’ll find the best selection at the supermarket. Since they come packaged in cute little cardboard boxes, it also makes a great gift.
Okay, so a bottle of Aperol Spritz or Campari Soda isn’t going to compare with the real deal freshly made, but that doesn’t mean these cuter-than-cute single serving pre-bottled cocktails are a souvenir to skip. They typically come in four packs, think of them as the Italian equivalent to Smirnoff Ice—only tastier. Either chill them to enjoy as a pre-dinner drink in your hotel room, or pack them in your check in bag for a reminisce when you get back home.
Tomato-Flavored Crackers (And Other Flavors)
Tomato crackers are the kind of afternoon snack that make you wish you too could grow up as a little Italian kid. You can find crackers in a variety of flavors, including cheese and olive oil, but are favorite are the salty-sweet tomato-basil, which feel utterly gourmet compared to America’s pizza Goldfish.
The crackers typically come individually wrapped in large packages, but you can buy a single serving of them either at the grocery store cash register or at tabacchi throughout the city.