Food Gifts to Bring French People from America

Dandelion chocolate

Even though globalization has made things pretty available everywhere, and things like Speculoos spread and Fleur de sel can now be found in America, it hasn’t always worked quite the same the other way around. Some American things haven’t made it across the Atlantic and people often think that Americans subsist on junk food because at the stores that cater to expats, and in the “American aisle” at the supermarket, there are things like Strawberry Fluff (which I keep explaining to them that that’s something I’ve never seen in America), boxed macaroni & cheese, caramel-flavored microwave popcorn, bottled salad dressings, and powdered cheesecake mix, which I think I find scarier than they do.

And while there’s nothing wrong with a pour of ranch dressing or a Fluffernutter every now and then (although hold the strawberry-flavor..), those are not exactly the best that America has to offer. I often get asked by folks in the states what kind of things people from America they should bring to their French friends or hosts. And while it’s tempting to bring them something amusing like chocolate cake mix or boxed macaroni and cheese, they don’t see the same humor mixed with nostalgia in them that we do. (And yup, they have boxed cake mixes here too, so they’re not novel.) Peanut butter is also dicey; while we in America devour it, many French folks have an aversion to the flavor of it. Space is also at a premium so while it’s fun to think how delighted they would be to get a 2-gallon drum of “French” salad dressing or red licorice whips from the warehouse store, you’re probably better off devoting that luggage space to something that they’ll actually use and eat.

So if you bring something along, realize that bigger isn’t always considered better here. And although you might be tempted to super-size your purchases, it’s okay to bring modest sized boxes or bags of things. Note that there are a few sweeping cultural references based on generalizations. France, like American, is a diverse nation of people with various tastes. So while there are people in France that do like peanut butter, it just isn’t a popular item here for reasons you should ask your French friends about.

Here are some things I recommend toting along. Of course, if you’re coming from somewhere else, perhaps there are similar things in your country that might be of interest.

maple syrup

Maple Syrup, Honey, and Jam

Although this can be found in natural food stores and supermarkets in France, a bottle is really a true “American” (and Canadian) treat. However French people don’t usually douse their morning croissant or brioche with maple syrup, so a small bottle is sufficient. Suggest they drizzle it over plain yogurt. French people do love honey so if there is a locally produced honey in your area, that’s a neat gift since few of them have tasted honey made in America, such as tupelo or mesquite honey.

There is also a great love of jam in France, however there is a lot of that here already, and most of it is quite good. However if there is something rather special, especially something made with good raspberries or other bushberries like boysenberries or olallieberries, or things made with varietal citrus like Rangpur limes or Meyer lemons – which you don’t come across in France – those would make fine gifts.

marmalade and maple butter

Dried Sour Cherries

These are just starting to appear in specialty markets and cost around €7 for ten cherries. However they’re still novel and most people haven’t heard of them, but do like them when I give them a bag. The ones at Trader Joe’s or American Spoon Foods are always a hit.

Small Offset Spatula

You can now find measuring cups and spoons in kitchenware stores in France, even though they mostly use a scale (un balance) for measuring ingredients. But for some reason, the small offset spatula still eludes them, in spite of the fact that larger ones are available. They only cost about $2.99 and I reach for mine just about every time I bake something. A friend worked at a Michelin 3-star restaurant and noted one of the cooks did brisk business bringing them back from the United States and reselling them to the other cooks.

Rasp Zester

These have come to France, but like dried sour cherries, not that many people have one yet. And they’re also quite pricey, so one of these makes a good gift. You can get them from Microplane and I’m a fan of this one from Oxo.

Heavy-Duty Aluminum Foil

A friend of mine who is a cook, every time I go back to the states, pleads with me, “Please, Daveed. Bring me back that heavy-duty foil. As much as you can carry!” French foil is really thin – you could read Le Monde through it – and rips easily, causing a lot of frustration to cooks. It drives me nuts as well because you can’t reuse it. So make your favorite French cook happy and stock them with the good stuff.

askinosietheo Patric Chocolate

Bean-to-Bar Chocolate

The bean-to-bar chocolate movement not a widely known concept in France. Yes, there are some great chocolate companies, but if ask most people if they know of any of the small producers of chocolate, you’ll likely get a blank stare. There is also a view that American chocolate is all commercial and bad (and some is, and some isn’t), but in the past decade or so, there are nearly two dozen chocolate-makers in America that have been making some interesting bas. So a few choice tables would be of interest if your hosts or friends have open minds about trying some new, handcrafted chocolate.

dried fruit

California Dried Apricots

I used to tell people to bring California dried apricots (well, at least to me) because I love how tart and tangy they are in comparison to their sweet Mediterranean counterparts. Then I realized after giving them to some French friends, they were often too-tangy for their tastes.

But the spectrum of dried fruits in America is pretty amazing, and things like dried black figs, blueberries, sour cherries (mentioned above), cranberries, and curiosities like dried pluots are virtually non-existent in France. (Yes, I snuck in “virtually” because although you sometimes can find them, they’re still quite uncommon.) Your local farmer’s market will likely have some, Trader Joe’s, or natural food stores.

American Cheese

It might seem folly to bring American cheese (not the stuff individually wrapped in the supermarket) to France, but a lot of French people will never have the chance to try one because they’re not imported. English cheeses are starting to make inroads in France, but an interesting chèvre from California or a blue cheese would make a nice gift for someone who was open-minded about cheese from outside of France.

macadamia nuts

Macadamia Nuts

These are one of those curiosities that have sort of taken off in Paris. They’re rare, and pricey in France, and have a certain cachet. The chocolate-covered ones I would stay away from, or the candied ones, as French people don’t seem to be as fond of overly sweetened candied things as some folks in America are. (Which is why if you’re bringing candy corn to Paris, it’d better be for me.)

Rancho Gordo beans

Heirloom Beans

I’ve gifted a bag of these heirloom beans to more French friends than anything else. Dried beans are pretty commonly used and available in France, but most are just the standard varieties. Interesting varieties are the Good Mother Stallard, Christmas limas, Scarlet runner from Rancho Gordo, which are variegated and are unusual. Go to a natural food store for a good selection.

California Wine

When I moved to France from California, I was always surprised when French people would say to me, “Oh, California. The wine there is very, very good.” I like California wine myself, but I didn’t understand why anyone from France would be praising California wine so highly. Most aren’t easily available here and although a number of people do visit the states, it wasn’t until I asked a French caviste why French people think so highly of California wine. “Most of them have never tasted it. They’re just saying that because they’re heard it’s good” he told me. Am not sure how true that is or not, but varieties that are somewhat unique to America, like Zinfandel (not the white stuff) are interesting. Most other states make wine, too. So perhaps check out some local labels from places closer to home to bring over, instead. French people also like whiskey (whisky), so if you know someone who will appreciate it, that makes a good gift as well.

Pecans

The French have taken to noix de pecan rather feverishly. However most of the times I’ve bought them, they’re unpleasantly over-the-hill. My guess is that they don’t turn over as quickly as they do in the states, where we bake heavily with them. So a bag of whole pecans is a welcome gesture.

chocolate chips

Chocolate Chips

A growing number of desserts in Paris have chocolate chips tumbling out of them, not to mention the classic, les cookies. Yet if you want some to bake them at home, a tiny bag of pépites chocolat containing what looks to be a dozen or so chocolate chips inside, will set you back more euros than one could imagine. Since “Le cookies” have caught on in France, a bag or two or semisweet morsels makes a nice gift and will save someone some major euros.



There are probably a few things I missed. But if any French people have any particular cravings, or what kinds of things you’d like visitors to bring, let us know in the comments. We’ll stock you up.

(And don’t forget to return the favor in l’autre direction!)



Related Posts

10 Things to Bring Back From Your Trip to Paris

10 Goofy Foods You’ll Find in French Supermarkets

10 Insanely Delicious Things You Shouldn’t Miss in Paris

Bringing Food Home From France



Note: When you travel to France, do be sure to check what can and can’t be brought into the country or the European Union. Also be aware that the information can change. You’ll find information at:

-What should I know about French customs? (About.com)

-French Border Rules (Douane.gov)

201 comments

  • I have an expat friend, a very distinguished film critic and op-ed columnist, who has been a Parisienne for 35 years now. She always wants Hershey bars!

  • They sell small offset spatulas at Mora — I know, because every time I go I stare at them and then decide I don’t need a 9e gadget :P
    I’ve also settled for chocolate chunks instead of chips in my cookies. Cheap and easy…. plus the chocolate pieces are bigger, and this is always a good thing! ;)
    And I wouldn’t dismiss chocolate covered macadamia nuts so easily; I was sent a bag of them and my 20s-ish french friends were big fans. That said, my friends are not the type to find food too sugary or portions too big, so maybe they’re a bad representative of the standard french person ;)

  • It’s amazing the things our friends ask us to bring to Europe and the things we ask them to bring us. Thank god for duty free champagne!

  • +1 on the chocolate chips! It’s unbelievable how few there are…

    Not too long ago it used to be meat and candy thermometers; turkey basters seem to be easier to find now as well.

    • One thing I was surprised not to find recently were oven thermometers. I went to every kitchen and department store, and finally found one in a shop in Les Halles. It was a cheap Chinese one, and was about €23 (the same one costs less than €4 in the US). I have a candy thermometer I bought at another shop in Les Halles, that specializes in baking and candymaking tools, which melted when I made caramel using it. So I bring the Taylor ones back from the US, too.

  • They still have microwave caramel corn in France? They don’t make it in the US anymore, not that I have seen anyway. I don’t even own a microwave, but I used to buy it and make it at work.

  • Parfait votre article Daveed !
    Vous êtes le plus français des américains que je connaisse…

    Mon Top Five :
    1.-1bis dried sour cherries – pecans ; 3. mapple Syrup ; 4.- 4bis Wisconsin blue cheese with California wine.

    et dix fois plutôt qu’une :
    la small offset spatula – la rasp zester (la microplane est une tuerie pour le lemon curd) – le heavy duty aluminium foil – les piques à maïs – les gadgets…

    … merci et encore bravo !

  • Vanilla extract is what I always ask for — nice to have an actual bottle of it, rather than make do with the puny tubes of arôme de vanille. Butterscotch (and its antecedent, sticky brown sugar) is also great.

  • Hi David,

    I went to Paris for first time last week (stayed at Le Citizen on the Canal Saint-Martin, which I highly recommend), and the only non-food item I brought back was a small offset spatula! It was from the famous E Dehillarin in the 1er, and it was quite pricey (I think 8 euro), but the quality is great and it was my one splurge. :-)

  • Thermometer, what about the Ikea ine? I have been using it since ages to control my dehrador temp or chocolate. Works well
    You are right about pecans (and it is not too heavy) and aluminium foil. Although i find both in switzerland for a premium

  • Well, I’m a Versaillais living in San Francisco for the last 13 years, and I could add:
    – roasted salted pistachios kernels
    – hickory smoked almonds
    – hickory smoked salt

    The things I usually bring back from trips back home are:
    – calissons (fresh ones from Puyricard)
    – marrons glacés

  • A Minnesotan, our locally harvested wild rice is what I bring in my suitcase to share. Sometimes people have not heard of it, while it is easily available here.

    • I bring back wild rice as well. However I’d say if I was giving it to someone who wasn’t familiar with it (you can find riz sauvage in France, but it’s not easy to find) I’d be sure to let them know that it’s not actually rice and is cooked differently. Otherwise, I can imagine a pricey disaster!

      • Great list, David. I also bring wild rice to represent my home state of MN and am sure to include a recipe. Last fall I brought my French hosts some homemade spiced pecans that they loved. They didn’t seem so wild about my “granola maison” with pistachios & dried sour cherries, though. Macadamias are a super idea and would travel well. Chocolate chips, too. Thanks for posting.

  • I wish I could have some Wisconsin squeaky cheese curds, but I assume they do not travel well, like stracchino (I am Italian, lived in the US and now in Scotland)

  • Thanks for this post! When I came to Europe as a kid with my choir, I used to like bringing Jelly Belly’s as gifts – so American and very fun! But now they are pretty widely available in Paris (haven’t looked in other parts of France). I like all these ideas, especially items that come from Trader Joe’s – so cheap! I am so happy that even though you dine at the best restaurants, you can happily admit with no shame the deliciousness of a fluffernutter. :)

    Oh, and I am with you on the pepites de chocolat – what is up with that Vahiné?? But on your recommendation, I bought a big bag of chocolate chunks at G. Detou, and I was able to make several batches of chocolate chip cookies with it! Thanks!

  • Heavy-Duty Aluminum Foil – Yesh!
    I keep mine in a bank safe.

    Great list, David! Truly fresh pecans are worth their weight in gold here.

    One item I can only find in the USA is Coeur a la Creme molds. I went to every kitchen supply shop here in Vienna, and they’d look at me as if I were asking for the moon. And I always thought France (where the molds come from originally) was an almost neighboring state! So I still get them from William-Sonoma in California.

    Another valuable commodity is cheesecloth. I still have not found a source here. Pharmacies sell 2-inch squares that look like cheesecloth, but are meant for wund dressing (yes, patched them together, works, but what a pain!).

    Thank you for this post, David. We really needed it!

  • Nice list oft things. From my trip to the US last year I brought a bunch of Reese’s Peanut Butter cups. Sure not exactly quality- food but I made many people happy, including myself…

  • My standard gifts to European friends are maple syrup and chocolate chips, but the thing they really seem to love is when I offer to make either pancakes or southern-style biscuits for breakfast one day during my visit.

  • I live half the year in Paris and I always bring back cheese popcorn, corn tortillas and cheddar cheese, there are some gourmet stores that sell these, but they just don’t taste the same, actually all the cheese popcorn I tried so far were all pretty awful, so I stock up on smart food white cheddar popcorn, la banderita corn tortillas and cheddar. I also had a hard time finding measuring spoons? so ended up bringing those over as well.

  • Also, to add to my comment, I forgot to add on my list Arm & Hammer baking soda, that was a must have item that I brought back.

  • Until I met my fiancée, that was also my perception of american food. A looong journey to the very lowest levels of junk foods, ready mixes and well, junk. Then I came to the US for an extended stay and was amazed. Recently an article in a national paper (where I live) had an article which summarised american food in just this manner. Junk all over, which is just an outright lie. I’m the kind of person who forfeits going to monuments etc., when I travel to a country. I seek out a supermarket, grocery stores, restaurants, any place serving something edible really, and let myself be amazed. And I was as amazed by grocery stores in Massachusetts as I was in Japan.
    Punchline: american groceries has a bad reputation which is undeserving.

  • And oh, the maple syrup! I tugged back a gallon worth during my last trip. I bake using maple syrup. I go through those tiny bottles available in the grocery store very fast.

  • I just returned from a trip to Paris in December and my friend Claude (Miss Lunch) asked for thick freezer ziplock bags. Let’s say she is set up for quite some time.

  • Thank you so very very much! I have children traveling to France this summer and was trying to figure out what to send with them – this post is invaluable to me!!!! I can’t thank you enough.

  • I buy aluminum foil from Lidl in the UK, which I find quite decent meaning it doesn’t split too easily. I use their different chocolates bashed up for cookie making as buying chocolate chips here is expensive, plus they only seem to come in milk, or dark, which is really like a semi-sweet.

    I really like a lot of the Pinot Noirs I have had from California wineries, but don’t know how they would compare to the French ones.

    PErhaps some Black Diamond Canadian cheddar might be suitable as well. I always go for that when in the USA as it is the closest to English cheddar. My new favourite cheddar is the Glastonbury mature cheddar. I have been buying it at farmer markets but they do sell online and at some supermarkets, but not their whole range.

    Must look out for the offset spatulas, I am sure they would complete me and my baking!

  • Pecans have shot up in price this year in the US, too. The two years of drought in pecan growing regions and the fact that the Chinese people have developed a big liking for them has made pecans very expensive compared to prior years.

  • I can’t tell you how delighted I was to see this post — incredibly good timing as my daughter will be flying to Paris on Thursday en route to her high school exchange in Antony. Maple syrup, check, that was already in the bag, but what else? Coline, who visited us in October, was passionate about peanut butter and peanut butter M&M’s, so that was in the bag too, along with a tea towel from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But what else? Thanks to your post, those items are nestled in a Trader Joe shopping bag, alongside a microplane zester, California dried apricots and Georgia pecans. I did verify with my ex-pat ami Mireille who verified the purchase, and mentioned that she had also brought a microplane zester to her sister this year for Christmas. Heavy duty foil? Maybe next time. Here’s a question for you, David, due to human rights issues my daughter will only eat fair trade certified chocolate. Is there such a thing in France? Thinking of some return gifts for her American teachers. I’m so proud of my daughter, she has worked very hard and speaks French very well. If I knew a terrific way to close this note in French I’d use it, but I’ll settle for: Cheers!

  • brown sugar!! I havent been able to find it in france yet and everytime i make a dessert with it french people love it (especially paula deen’s sweet potato praline crunch pie). Please let me know if anyone knows where to find brown sugar in france i would be much obliged thx
    Another good idea is mexican type foods – like enchilada sauce. My bf loved it when i brought back a can from the states.

  • Our French friends LOVE dried cherries from Costco, Jiffy cornbread mix (yes, the ones that cost about a buck on sale), malted milk powder, and, for our older friends — wait for it — SPAM. When the Americans arrived in Paris at the end of WWII, the French had not had protein sources for years. The soldiers shared their SPAM. Our older French friends tear up when the see it, even if as I suspect, they don’t actually eat it. (BTW, SPAM is terrific sliced thin and fried mercilessly until crisp, and cubed, sauteed hard and put into quiches, so stop that eye-rolling!)

    Thanks so much for the new ideas — our friends will benefit!

  • The French females that I know like McCormicks Garlic Salt, the one with parsley in it. They always ask what I put in my mashed potatoes and that’s my secret ingredient so now I bring back a few containers from the States-for them and me.

    • I know a French couple that love something called Montreal Steak Seasoning mix, made my McCormick. I’ve never tried it but they are in love with the stuff and often ask me to bring them back some. (Although once I found a rather large pack at Costco and brought that to them, and they didn’t quite know how to deal with so much of something!)

  • David, This is perfect as I am visiting Paris in June and will see some French friends while there. Merci beaucoup! Other comments are great too!

  • I live in Barcelona, Spain, and the unavailability of these coveted American products seems very similar. What is bean-to-bar chocolate, and what brand do you recommend?

  • What a great post! Love your ideas! During the 20 years my dad was an expat in Paris, he always requested jars of Jif, American cigarettes, and maple syrup. Reese’s peanut butter cups (in seasonal shapes, like Christmas trees or Valentine’s hearts) were also a big hit. Thanks for the cool suggestions!

  • That’s my list too !! Except I have to add Grits. Grits, real stone ground are the best but I can do with grits from the supermarket too (just NOT instant – yuck). I know polenta is ground corn, but it is just not the same! Of course, that’s not a gift except to me!

  • Great list, David! I should send this post out to all my friends in the US! Yay for pecans, sour cherries, mesquite flour, maple syrup, and heirloom beans. And so much more…

  • Does Lidl in France sell peanut butter? In the UK they sell the brand – McKennedy, plus the UK Sunpat version, both types in crunchy and smooth. I find the Sunpat type very acceptable. You can also buy pistachios in their shells at the UK stores. They also sell California raisins.

  • Love this post! My sister in law who lives in Toulouse always begs for…
    Jelly Belly jelly beans! She absolutely loves them and cant find them down in the wilds of the Midi-Pyrenees!

  • Philadelphie–Not sure where you are in France, but here in the Paris suburbs, brown sugar (sucre vergeoise) is readily available (try an Auchan/Simply or a SuperU), though it’s often tucked away in an upper shelf of the sugar section.
    Auchan has a “Super Alu” that’s not bad, actually. I think you tweeted about it a couple of years ago, David.

  • I traveled to Paris as part of a student exchange back in high school. I brought my hostess a gift set from American Spoon (our group was from Michigan like the company) and she absolutely loved it!

  • Glad plastic wrap is always on my import list. I have never understood why the French stuff won’t stick to anything, even itself!
    I also bring back dry pinto beans, which I have not been able to find anywhere in Paris. Plus all the other ingredients for Mexican cooking . . .

    • The last roll of plastic wrap I bought didn’t have a cutter on the box, so I was always wrestling with it, trying to slice off a piece. Plus I like to reuse plastic wrap (and foil) as many times as possible, so it was kind of vexing.

  • I’ve heard cheddar cheese is not so popular in France; is that true? If not, Carr Valley Cheese in Wisconsin has some of the best I’ve tasted. (They have several award winning cheeses.) During our evacuvacation (after the Federal Flood here almost eight years now), we passed through Wisconsin and picked up Carr’s seven year old cheddar. When we returned home, we took some to our local wine shop owner as he was still cleaning out his space; we stood away from the dumpster eating cheese and drinking wine and laughing. It’s addictive, but we can’t afford to buy it from the grocery store here as then it’s $24 a pound! Nor can we order it in the summer as we tried once and got a hot gooey mess fortunately encased in plastic. I don’t want to be forced out of my home again, but a cheese tour of Wisconsin may help me with not having one in France.

    • You can get cheddar cheese now a bit. Some supermarkets carry commercial brands (which aren’t very good) and some fromageries do carry some good ones. But I was at a Thanksgiving dinner (French and American guests) and someone brought a whole bunch of American artisanal cheeses, which people enjoyed trying.

  • Interesting list — I do understand the need! I lived in Israel for 16 years. These days you can get anything there, but back then (starting 1980) it was a very big deal to get things from our home countries. The Americans had to have their peanut butter and tuna fish, and the Brits/Aussies needed their marmite/vegemite and some good tea. Nowadays when I go to visit I smuggle in my own home made cakes. They’re appreciated, but the funny thing is that everyone really likes the paper towels I use to cushion the containers. “They’re so soft!!” So if you have the room, bring a few rolls of Bounty!

  • Never give anything with the words “hydrogenated” or “fructose” in the ingredients list.

  • I almost always have a bottle of Sweet Baby Ray’s honey barbecue sauce in my fridge… all of my French friends have tasted it at burger nights at my house–and now I’m fielding constant requests.

    I have to say, I find my local Casino and Carrefour VERY well stocked–we’ve been getting a lot of Campbells soup, british muesli, steel cut oats, Newman’s salad dressings, and, well a bunch of other stuff–and at normal Carrefour prices. My friend’s mom also let me know that she spotted the most illusive thing–a big liter box of ‘soupe poule’, or plain old bouillon. She found it at Cora, which isn’t anywhere near me…so I’m on a hunt at all of the Carrefours and Leclercs around. I’ll let you know when I find it.

  • Fantastic list! I always bring rolls of heavy duty foil over when we visit. My cousins, who went to college in the states, also always beg me for taco seasoning and pop tarts. Nostalgia perhaps?

  • I am an expat living in France since 2006.
    There are too few friends traveling today so I often rely on Amazon as well as other US websites for my purchases.

    From the USA, I always need Rumford ALUMINUM-FREE baking powder, Cream of Tartar, cans of chopped Jalapenos, Bob’s Red Mil Premium Baking Soda ALUMINUM-FREE, heavy duty aluminum foil, Vermont maple syrup Grades A and B, Hawaiian macadamia nuts, brown sugar, and dark brown sugar, Nielson-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract, Minnesota Grown WIld Rice, and Choice Organic Teas.

    In France, I make my way to Orleans, France every year to stock up on all flavors of Martin Pouret wine vinegars.

  • @philadelphie – I used to haul brown sugar back all the time too. Not necessary! Put a tablespoon of molasses in a cup of sugar (or adjust to your liking). That’s all it is – honest. And if you’re feeling a bit lazy, just put the molasses in the butter and sugar you’re creaming. It takes a bit longer to incorporate, but it works.

  • My US friend sends me Ziploc bags at my request. UK zippy bags just aren’t like the US ones.

  • David: I am so surprised that you didn’t say Peanut Butter.

    I don’t know about France, but we lived in Germany for 6 years. I would rather go without than eat their peanut butter.

    If I was bringing something, I would definitely bring peanut butter.

    Have a Joyful Day :~D
    Charlie

    • I’ve met very few French people that like peanut butter. (Most of them that do have lived in the US.) It’s like of like Vegemite or Marmite; I think you have to grow up eating it to like it? You can get peanut butter in health food stores in France, and the supermarkets sell American commercial brands, but I’m a fan of chunky organic people butter, myself.

  • My mother in law in France is obsessed with Northwoods Fire spice blend from Penzey’s. She puts it in her boeuf bourgignon! Spice blends are very limited in France. When I’ve lived in France, I also brought mint and peanut butter flavored chocolates and salsa.

    In the other direction, I bring herbal bouillon cubes, shallot vinegar, crema candies, and chocolate…and perfumed deodorant- why don’t they make that here???

  • Please, if you’re going to bring dried fruit do not bring Sunmaid! They do something to the fruit to make the texture weird. And, in the case of apricots, it’s disgusting–feels like a human earlobe.

    If you don’t live where you can find good dried fruit, skip it.

    • Someone brought me those California apricots who was visiting (and asked what I wanted them to bring) and you’re right, they’re a little odd. They also turned brown very very quickly.

  • My French friends beg me to bring chocolate chip cookie dough — not so much the cookies, but the cookie dough. They say it tastes better from the US because the flour is different. So I always make 2 batches of dough, freeze it in a rectangular shape wrapped in foil and plastic wrap and bring it in my carry-on in several ziplocks, surrounded by ice packs. It weighs a ton, but it’s always the first thing they ask about and they immediately start eating it (I don’t blame them — I’d rather eat the dough than the cookies!) They do eventually bake some cookies, but the teenagers just love the dough. I also bring Fannie May pixies: http://www.fanniemay.com/2-lb-pixies—milk-chocolate-fmc-fm82015?categoryId=400005581 — they absolutely love them!

  • Since we don’t have Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and a lot of those wonderful grocery stores here in Charleston, WV, I do a lot of shopping for things like that online, at places like Nuts.com, Great American Spice Co., olive nation, and Amazon. I know your list is for people visiting France from America but for the people in France, they can probably use these websites if they have no American friends. My father was in the Army and we spent about 8 years in Germany after WWII. It was always a big treat to get a package from “home”, whether it was something our parents had ordered or something one of our relatives sent over as treats. At that time, probably the main thing we all craved was real ice cream. The Army snack bar on base was okay (the Germans really loved it when I would bring them some) but not the same as here in the States. One of the first things I did when we landed back here in the States was indulge in 2 huge banana splits. YUM!!!

  • In the UK, I especially miss good deli-style beef jerky, cans of hominy and malted milk powder and those free bag ties you can get in any supermarket in the states to seal open packages up again. From France to the UK, I love Kiri cream cheese squares and those little moussey chestnut desserts near the yoghurt section.

  • Thick aluminum foil I have found at Monoprix stores and also at that marvellous deep frozen chain Picard found over all over Paris.
    As for American cheese is this not a pasteurized product? If so why bring any to France? My experience is that cheese like butter are to be had unpasteurized
    As for the marvels of America there is nothing like various kinds of dried chili fruits.
    Weighs nothing so ideal to bring.

  • How about celery seed? I can’t find it anywhere, not even in England. How can one make a decent cole slaw??

  • Fascinating blog post today, David!

    First off, my latest box of plastic wrap appeared to have no cutter. I was ready to take it back when I noticed a little clear plastic serrated strip glued to the underside of the lid flap. !!! It is a pain to use but better than no cutter at all. You might have a look. I’d completely missed it.

    Years ago I took corn tortillas to a friend in the country near Houdon. (Remember that those in the countryside don’t necessarily have access to what may be available in Paris.)

    The small offset spatula (as opposed to the large one) is the gem. Indispensable to a cake baker/froster.

    Not sure when I’ll return to France. But reading your blog and posts like this (with the comments) brings back so many happy memories.

    (My favorite “how to find it?” experiences in Paris involved a converter plug and a place to get my hair cut. I speak almost no French. It turned out to be fun.)

  • Are there any Customs regulations on nuts, beans, and honey? I thought that it was forbidden to introduce agricultural products from outside the EU? Normally I’m not such a blind rule-follower, but what if some kind of invasive parasite, mold, or fungus actually made it in on some of the products? I’d feel awful if I started some kind of widespread agricultural nuisance . . .

  • Celery seeds are found in any food shop of non-French character of which there are several in Paris. I use the Jewish ones. Find addresses in googling.
    Brown sugar is found in the sugar section of every French supermarket.

  • I was just going to suggest Pecan nuts; and then you had them listed! :) I think I would buy more than even I could eat and I like them so much that I’d go totally over the top.
    But what on earth are ‘ranch dressing or a Fluffernuttet’???
    I always suggest honey too – although last time in England I came home with the very powerful NZ Manuka honey (v expensive!) – but Maple Syrup – yummy yummy!
    We also have discussed heavy duty foil before, I remember. I still swear by the heavy duty LIDL product here in France; but of course when you live in Paris intra-muros, good luck to you. And the minute they get a lot, they are sold.
    —–
    When I return to France from Switzerland, it’s clearly chocolate in any case… but also I bring Gruyère cheese, wonderful nutty Emmental, Sbrinz, and local (strong) cheeses you can only buy when you’re THERE where they come from.
    I also bring French ‘confitures'; they are easily the best I’ve ever tasted in any country and compared in quality, still reasonable. So they get distributed heavily when I visit friends in Switzerland and England.
    Same goes for honey, although in both countries, good local honey is getting a premium because the poor bees die from all those pesticids in their surroundings.
    My dad, when abroad in a country he didn’t know the language, many, many years ago, was desperate to find a spray to get rid of the moscitos… He tried to show the sales person in the pharmacy what he was looking for, with ‘waving his arms, going ‘wwhhhhs’, clapping his body’ – and (so I’ve been told many times) eventually came back totally exhausted and flattened, holding a jar of honey in his hands….

  • Forget completely the bland, mushy dried apricots you get in U.S. supermarkets and run, don’t walk, to Trader Joe’s for their Blenheim variety slab dried apricots (Patterson variety is also good). The flavor is soooooo much more intense and delicious and makes anything you bake with them extra apricoty! They run about $6 for a 1 lb. bag, and are worth every penny. I never use anything else.

  • What I would bring from Oregon: a Willamette Valley pinot noir, Rogue Smokey Blue Cheese, Meadowfoam honey, Ambacht Pie Cherry Dark Ale, Dagoba chocolate, wild rice, hazelnuts, smoked salmon. A feast!

  • Thanks for this list which I will definitely use!

    My daughter took a Canadian wine (gasp!) with her to a reunion in Paris, and it disappeared pretty quickly! I find your comments about the French not taking to peanut butter very interesting, as I don’t think it ever dawns on us that it may be offensive to some palettes! My mother said that the first time she tried it, it stuck in her throat and she couldn’t breathe! She’s come around tho’, (but prefers hazelnut butter).

    Loved your comments about the Biscoff Spread. New fans here: just received some at Christmastime. I am sending you a link to the fairly new Trader Joe’s version, which they can’t keep in stock. It’s so reasonably priced (11ozs for 3.69USD) that it wouldn’t hurt to try it and compare to the real thing!

    http://www.traderjoes.com/fearless-flyer/article.asp?article_id=561

  • Next time you hit Lausanne, head for a Migros supermarket. You can get their Tangan brand heavy-duty (large rolls) tin foil (erm, aluminum foil) and also bags of pecans in the dried fruit/nuts section. And probably macadamia nuts, although I haven’t really checked for those.

  • For the person who was asking about the brown sugar, I find mine in “les supermarchés bio” in Paris such as La vie claire, Naturalia et bio c bon!

    As for what I want people to bring back from the US : low fat cinnamon sugar POPTARTS!! I can’t find them anywhere and I miss them so much. Also, blueberry/cinnamon bagels from Whole foods.

    I do miss Americnan food…

  • The girls who stayed with us as young students in the US always want us to bring bagels and cream cheese to France. In the days before weight limitations we would pack a suitcase with 3 dozen bagels to split among the 3 different families. People thought it was coals to Newcastle, but good bagels are still not available in France, even though there are a few places in Paris that sell them.

  • I bring large sized rolls of Costco Branded plastic bags as well as Costco clear food wrap. Neither are readably available in Paris where I reside 4 months out of the year!

    • I brought back 2 of those rolls of Costco plastic wrap with that amazing cutter on it, and it’s one of my favorite things. It’s also thick so I can use it over and over again, if it doesn’t get dirty. It’s great and my French friends all want a roll when they see mine.

      (There has been talk of Costco opening in France, out in the commercial centers, to compete with the big box stores like Carrefour and Auchan. I think the other stores are fighting their presence, but they have opened in Costco. One thing I remember about Costco in the US was that they did have a lot of local products like cheese, wine, charcuterie, cookbooks, etc so it’ll be interesting to see if they ever open here.)

  • my French friends ask me for Aunt Jemima Complete Pancake mix, although one friend said she can now find it in France.

  • Dear David,
    You make me want to run out to the post office and send care packages all over France! I don’t like to see someone go without something they love … dried cherries, fresh sweet pecans and a few other treats could make someones day!

  • Like another poster above, I was wondering about the French Customs for bringing in seeds and other non processed agricultural goods. I guess I’m interested in what the law says compared to what is really enforced.

  • I also get calls for Ziploc freezer bags! They are the best.

    For gifts, I am a fan of Californian Olive Oil or New York Riesling.

  • I have a good friend who lives in Madrid and she likes many of the things you mentioned from the US as we’ll as Clabber Girl baking powder. For some reason she’s not happy with what’s available in Spain.

    • I bring aluminum-free baking powder to France with me, although since French baking powder in recipes is often indicated “per packet” (which it is sold by), might need to weigh a packet to get the equivalent. Curiously, they sell Rumford baking powder at Le Grand Épicerie in Paris. (Rumford is made by Clabber Girl, but it’s their aluminum-free brand.)

  • In 1987 when I studied at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne, professor Chef Chambrette, when asked by the students what they could bring him after the semester break trip back home would say “bacon Americaine, annnnnny kind!”

  • Heavy-duty foil is indeed a great idea, I’ll add a few things my husband brings back from the US when on a travel trip:

    – Maple spread/butter, simplly impossible to find in France (except a tiny jar at G.Detou for 5 gallons of Nutella, on a lucky day),
    – Mc Cormick steak spices, especially Mesquite and Montreal,
    – Chocolate-covered cranberries,
    – from the Pacific NorthWest: smoked salmon, the dry type, very different from the moist variety we get in France but sooo good (huge bonus if it comes in a nice wooden box with a native american eagle on the lid :)

    For crafty people: paper freezer, we use it in stenciling techniques.

  • I don’t know if anyone else commented on cheese-as-a-present before (’cause I couldn’t find the time to read all comments above), but better safe than sorry: It’s illegal to bring cheese or any other produce made of milk into Europe. If one is caught bringing stuff like that into Europe, customs will ticket them with a heavy fine. So I wouldn’t recommend that…

    I myself always ask for two things: Peanutbutter M&M’s (don’t know why they can’t seem to find their way into Europe’s supermarkets) and chili pepper seeds. Next time I’ll add mesquite honey – sounds great!

    @ Craig: I haven’t had problems with customs and plant seeds before. As long as we’re not speaking CITES protected plants or potatoes/vines everything should be fine.

    • I do recommend that people check and see what is legal to bring into another country and what isn’t. I know coming into the US, I’ve brought cheese without a problem – and yes, I’ve declared it, and they have let me in. But I did link to the French customs website at the end of the post so people can check.

  • McCormick Vanilla extract-a large bottle. Yes, I know I should use vanilla beans or paste or the price-y stuff but I’ve been using the McCormick vanilla since the ’60s and the Vahine brand that they have in Leclerc is horrible and expensive. I bake a lot in the six months I live in Brittany so I always bring a few bottles to get me through the summer. Good baking powder-preferably without aluminum is a must and I always bring over a lot of Jello or My-T-Fine puddings and pie fillings to add to my cakes. I bring over lots of caramel chips as well as butterscotch, white chocolate and peanut butter,too. Pecans are shlepped over and lots of Indian ingredients from Kalyustan’s. There are no great ethnic shops in Finistere so I have to bring it, make it myself or do without-a fate worse than…..!

  • Trader joes also carries peanut butter cups that are far superior to Reeses. Theo and askinosie are good bean to bar companies. (I believe there is a photo in the post).

    Both Jacques Torres and Tumbador do some good quality fun chocolate if you’re based in NY. Also in NY (as mentioned in the honey post) chunks of maple candy from the Union Square green market (if you can find them Conklin Orchards make the best cider donuts. If you see their stand buy them before 10am, otherwise they may be sold out).

    Rancho gordo, anson mills, american spoon foods all carry some great american made heirloom type products. Cypress Grove, thistle hill farm (their tarentaise), Mackenzie Creamery (american goat cheese) all great cheese.

    Pappy van winkle bourbon (best bourbon made in the country but difficult to get a hold of). The 20 year is the best, imo, for a very close friend or family. There are some other small batch whiskeys like Hudson or Whistlepig, but in my opinion they taste young. Rye whiskey is also very american, and there’s a nice variety on the market. For a more affordable but still tasty bourbon I think Blantons and Buffalo Trace are the best values on the market. Ravines (in the finger lakes) released a 2011 riesling that stands equal to German rieslings (perhaps even some of the 2010s). Beautiful stony minerality, nice acidic backbone, very dry with that classic petrol notes on the nose. It’s under $20 and a spectacular value (especially as compared to some of the other finger lakes vineyards). Their single vineyard Artesinger (if you can get your hands on it) is also a great gift (and shows that Anerican wines too can express terroir).

    Another gift idea, if you can find it, is some Predilecta guava paste. I stock up whenever I see it. It goes wonderfully in the jam tart recipe from this site, and there’s a delicious Brazilian dessert called Romeo and Julietta where you put together guava paste, ricotta fresca, and dulce de leche in each bite. Unforunately other brands I’ve tried were way inferior in taste, probably due to additives and the like (the Predilecta brand seems to just be water, guava pulp, pectin, and citric acid).

  • I’m an American working for a French company. Every time we come visit our coworkers in Cachan the #1 request is Beef Jerky. Who knew?

  • Booked plane tickets to come over in September… Let me know your must have when the time comes! I have a pantry full of trader joe’s nuts and dried fruits!

    I agree- dried sour cherries must be one of my favorite things… Put them with pistachios and I just melt…

  • David, I’d be happy to send you a care package in thanks for the enjoyment I’ve gotten from your great writing over the years. I’m about 10 minutes away from Trader Joe’s, Costco and Whole Foods (all within a block of one another). Let me know!

  • Sharon, where in the world do you find molasses in France??!! And David, if you have French friends who say the California wine is good, it’s because the California wine is good….I don’t care what some French person says. I have a theory: you can find more bad wine in France for the simple reason that there is so MUCH wine in France. In California, I’ve had some mediocre wine, be never any that was really bad.

    • You can find molasses in France at natural food stores. At my post, American Baking in Paris, I give some guidelines for using it because it’s quite strong. California wine is quite strong (high alcohol content) so it surprises me that French people like it so much. Of course, there is great wine in California and not-good wine in France. Interestingly, there is good wine in other states but I’ve never heard anyone mention New York State wine in France, which can be quite good as well.

  • Great ideas, clearly we have a lot to offer. I love that you mentioned the little offset spatula. In the bakery we called it the UBT, ultimate bakery tool!

  • America’s test kitchen has a recipe for American Cheese — would be great to try making it….

  • My mom’s sister moved to Paris right after WWII….every visit (from the 60s through the 90s and her death included Philly cream cheese, Gold’s horseradish sauce and maple syrup. Lately, when visiting my cousins, who are in their 50s, it’s a frozen Junior’s cheesecake. This column really brought back some wonderful memories.

  • What a great topic, David. My frustrations from trying to find my favorite things in English stores is the stuff of legend amongst my friends. Nearly everything people have suggested have been things I’ve wanted or needed at some point. Now and then I find that elusive ingredient or product online (at great expense) but two things are proving especially difficult for me:
    Oyster crackers – (and for that matter clams for chowder – fresh or canned both nearly impossible and
    Monterey Jack cheese
    And when I’m feeling really nostalgic, Root Beer.

  • If I was to stock up on aluminium foil while in the US (I’ll be in the Boston-area followed by San Fransisco), what brand should I choose for best quality? American cling-film should also be on any list. It clings to where it’s supposed to rather than clib all together before you can actually cover whatever you need to wrap.

  • All of my friends in France want me to bring them American measuring cup and spoon sets so they can reproduce the recipes they get on the internet. Microplanes and old-fashioned vegetable peelers are desirable, too. They have fancy ones in France but after seeing me peel potatoes with my old Ecko classic peeler everyone wanted one.

    • I’ve brought people those oxo/microplane peelers that are nice and sharp, and a number of folks still prefer to use their old swivel-headed ones anyways. I guess old habits die hard!

  • I have looked everywhere in Paris for lemon reamers…n’existe pas
    Fr friend loved that…I see Canadien maple syrup in all the super marche..was very surprised… Found peanut butter from Nicaragua in Carrefours too.
    Zip-lock bags I have not seen…great idea
    Carolg

  • Excellent list. Thank you. I will be in Paris mid-May (traveling from the Bay Area). As others have offered, happy to bring something you desperately want/need to thank you for your wonderful blog (it was my guide on my first trip to Pari in 2008 and will be again on this short trip).

  • What a GREAT post, right on target. I too have brought back on various trips pecans and other dried nuts/fruits, vanilla extract, spices, ziploc bags, baking powder, chocolate chips and also Hershey’s kisses for making Christmas peanut butter blossom cookies. Also decaf tea, which is very hard to find here.

    My French/European co-workers love the “strange” things I bring back from the US: Little Debbie snack cakes, animal crackers, Cracker Jacks, sourdough pretzels in a 2 lb plastic jar!, and also little Yankee candles that have real food extracts (?!) and smell like food (red velvet, caramel pecan, whoopie pie, etc.)

  • Strawberry Fluff is a thing! I saw it for the first time when I moved from California to Rhode Island, where it’s in all the grocery stores. It is used with peanut butter in sandwiches the way jam is.

  • My personal list:

    Press’n Seal, for something that clings without clumping and can be reused. (For the cutting of foil and other, I believe you are meant to invest in a dévidoir.)
    Ground cloves, which I’ve never seen here. Not easy to make your own, unlike say nutmeg.
    Cream of tartar.
    Cheerios, for friends with crawlers/toddlers; animal crackers for the next age group.
    There used to be Mexican Vanilla and various wines, but all the fun has gone out of transporting liquids.
    And while it is true you can find jelly bellies, they are priced like gold. We are still parsimoniously living off of a 5 pound jar of jelly bellies my mother brought several years ago. (We are like L’Avare with his casette of coins.)
    There is also beef jerky, which I don’t like, but others I know really do.
    I have not seen Pop Tarts mentioned, perhaps for a very good reason, but they would really brilliantly illustrate a cultural gap for your French friends.
    Thin mints, or girl scout cookies in general.
    For cranberry sauce, you can occasionally find frozen cranberries at Picard, but I in fact have long ago started making mine with groseilles anyways.

  • im american and live in egypt and quite a few things are hard to come by. strawberry and raspberry fluff are popular in the state of Maine and its very good. :-) i too cannot find hershey bars, fluff or real american cheese or quality cold cuts :-( peanut butter here in egypt also is not popular but i do love it more than any other nut butter hands down. i cant find any type of thermometer for cooking either. you might want to tell your friends about amazon.com if money isnt an issue as shipping costs are not cheap if its heavy items. but anything that doesnt spoil, can be bought overseas through amazon thankfully.

  • We hired a wonderful expat guide when we visited Paris in June…We offered to bring her anything she was missing from the States and she requested canned pumpkin!

    • I always bring canned pumpkin and cranberries over to France and make my pumpkin pie every year near the end of October. I also bring my own packets of Fleischmann’s yeast.

      • Maggie: There is no reason to lug cans of pumpkin or cranberries, unless you enjoy having exactly your childhood brand or have a visitor who wants to do you a favor. You can be a locavore for this.
        Picard sells pumpkin puree in frozen pellets, which you simply need to thaw. I drain them a bit before using in a pie (coffee filters, if you don’t want to use cheese cloth; just let gravity work for a few hours). If your cans of pumpkin are a “pie filler”, you would need to add condensed milk, egg and the pre-fab spice mix “Quatres Epices” plus ginger.
        Picard does carry bags of frozen cranberries in the late fall too, but not reliably timed for Thanksgiving. Ikea sells a cranberry spread that you can doctor up. And as mentioned earlier, I have substituted groseille to good effect.

  • I’m an expat from Oregon living in Amsterdam.

    Girl Scout Cookies? I didn’t even know I was missing them until I read these comments.

    I’d add dried ancho peppers, Tapatío hot sauce, corn tortillas, cream of tarter, zip lock freezer bags, kraft mini marshmallows, WSU Cheddar, and since I’m dreaming could I also have some ground turkey breast?

  • My dearest French friend lived in Mexico and always asks for fresh corn tortillas. I live in L.A. so it’s easy to get the good stuff. These last few years I’ve also brought homemade tamales that I freeze rock solid the night before the flight, containers of molé and a brick of Cacique Mexican cheese.

    On the return, this past year I was in Brittany and came back with Belon Cidre, a couple tins of fois gras, Calvados, butter cookies, and last but not least, 5 pounds of Jean-Yves Bordier butter.

  • For dried cherries, go to the Cherry Republic website and get them at their source. They will ship. We buy them in 5 pound bags. Their dark chocolate covered dried cherries are wonderful, too.

    Depending on how small an offset spatula you need, you might try a palette knife. Look in art supply stores.

  • Having friends in France for whom I’ve brought gifts for years (mostly US wine – I usually use a 6-bottle wine shipper and check it as luggage – even if you don’t fill it, it’s the only way to get the bottles there safely).

    I’d also be very interested in what non-food items people have brought to French friends. So David, although this is a food blog, it is also a cultural blog so perhaps you’d consider publishing a list of non-food items. It occurs to me that I can’t remember one thing I’ve brought that wasn’t food related. I’m going to have to think harder next time.

    Having said that, in addition to wine, I’ve brought the “America The Beautiful Cookbook” and a bottle of old, small distiller Bourbon (I think it was 20-year old). A good choice would be small-producer crafted spirits such as a bottle of Germain-Robin brandy from California, or Clear Creak Pear “Brandy” (eau-de-vie) from Oregon (with or without pear). How about some of the wonderful olive oils that are made in California? I’m sure the food/wine list could go on forever.

  • Thanks for the list, David. Since I rent apartments when I travel to Paris, I always bring small containers of McCormick’s Montreal Spice blends for chicken and beef so that I don’t have to buy any large, pricey jars of spices while I am there. I also bring Miracle Whip, Simply Heinz ketchup (no corn syrup) and Skippy’s Natural Peanut Butter. This summer, I’ll be in Paris for 3 months so your list reminded me to add my microplane and maple syrup to my food stash. A question, though. Is it easy to find Worcestershire sauce or should I bring that, too?

  • hi, David))
    i`m not from France, but from Russia and we lack black treacle, golden syrup and things like chestnut puree. such a pity actually :(

  • Such a long list of comments; I couldn’t read them all to make sure I wasn’t duplicating.

    Having said that, here’s my addition: We have a home in Provence and go for four months a year. Our neighbors have been delighted to receive and ask for (every year!) a package of compressed sponges from Williams Sonoma (or Trader Joe’s, for a slightly inferior but much cheaper alternative). They are simply not found there – at least in the south of France – and the irony is that every package says “made in France”!