Things I Bring When I’m a Guest for a Weekend (or Week)

A while back, someone posed the question on Twitter, asking it was okay to bring your own knives if you’re a houseguest for the weekend. It’s a question I didn’t think was all that odd, since I do it all the time. Then a friend of mine also noted recently that, like me, he brings red pepper powder with him, when he’s cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen. Which got me thinking about the mini-arsenal of equipment and foodstuffs I tote along with me when heading out to the country to stay with friends or family.

I try to be a good guest and bring food to take some of the burden off my hosts. I’ll usually prepare and freeze a few rolls of cookie dough, or maybe a disk of tart dough, which I’ll bring along to make a tart. I might take along a marinated lamb or pork shoulder (or loin) studded with garlic and rubbed with spices, ready to roast off with little fuss. And I always bring a couple of loaves of bread from Paris since it can be a challenge to find good bread in the countryside. (And I don’t like eating baguettes that can be tied in a knot.) And I always arrive with a couple of bottles of wine, because I don’t want to be known as the guest who drank his hosts out of house and home.

So here is a general list of some of the things I bring along so I can pitch in with the cooking and remain a happy camper:

chopping parsley


Years ago when working in an Asian restaurant, chef Martin Yan came into the kitchen and asked me why I wasn’t using one of his cleavers. So I told him to send me one – which he did! And I find a cleaver a great general-purpose knife, and I pack my up to avoid the pleasure (or displeasure) of trying to make dinner with someone’s steak knife that they inherited from their grandmother who got it thirty-five years ago at the bank when they were giving away knives if you opened an account.

With a cleaver, you can slice and chop vegetables, fruits, herbs, garlic and meat easily. I’ve had this one for about twenty years and it’s still almost as sharp as new. Most Asian markets carry very good cleavers that cost relatively little. The heft of such a knife also makes it good in case anyone is giving you a hard time in the kitchen. Raise it high above you, and I can guarantee, that you’ll instantly gain the respect of everyone else in the kitchen. (Although you might not gain an invitation to come back.)

two essential knives

A Good, Cheap Paring Knife and Serrated Knife

I’ve already extolled the virtues of my favorite serrated knife, which is useful for slicing tomatoes, onions, and fruits, and is cheap enough so that if someone pilfers it or runs it through the dishwasher, I won’t flip out. (Well, not too much…) I was recently at a Migros supermarket in Switzerland and they were selling similar knives of good-quality for about $5 – and believe me, I stocked up.

A small, inexpensive paring knife is another must. As an ex-restaurant worker, I dislike hate letting anyone else use any of my knives unless I am 110% certain they will, 1) Bring it back to me when done with it, and 2) Assure me that they will not use my knife to open a jumbo can of olive oil. I don’t let my favorite one out of my sight kitchen because after losing it for ten years, and having a dishwasher at Chez Panisse find it in a silverware rack ten years later (yes, really) – I hold on to it for all it’s worth. And it’s worth a lot more than five dollars.

zip-top bags

Zip-Top Freezer Bags

I stow a few of these amongst my things as they take almost zero room and are great for storing stuff and marinating chicken and meat. At home, I reuse them a zillion times over, but on vacation, I’m sorry to say that I am happy to have one less thing to stand over the sink and wash.

Although I get teased mercilessly for loving zip-top bags, and bringing them back from the states by the suitcase-load…who’s drinking a chilled glass of rosé under the shade of the trees when everyone else is hunched over the sink up to their elbows in soapy water?

rubber spatulas

Silicone Spatulas

I could scream when I go to people’s houses and they have aged, stiff, spatulas whose rubber heads are so petrified they’re good for…well, nothing. (Above, left.) I lower my stress level considerably by bringing my own. My silicone spatulas are heatproof so I don’t have to worry about them getting ruined and I use them for everything. (I kind of am obsessed with the Le Creuset spoon spatulas, in spite of telling me that I need to move on, and give others a try.)

vegetable peeler

Vegetable Peeler

Not 100% essential, since you can make do with a paring knife instead. But there is nothing more frustrating than trying to use a dull, rusty vegetable peeler that you find at the bottom of their long-forgotten utensil drawer. (And in France, everything needs to be peeled. Although I draw the line at tomatoes.) I bring a good one along. And while Europeans seem to like the Y—style peelers better, the sharpness of the Oxo ones can’t be beat. I often leave one behind as a gift, and find that on my next visit, the y-style ones are still in the drawer and everyone is peeling their tomatoes with their shiny new vegetable peeler.

green lentils

Green Lentils

I tote along a bag or box of green lentils since no matter how well-equipped, or badly equipped, the kitchen is, you can simmer a pot of lentils in 25 minutes, toss them with some peeled and diced carrots and onions that you’ve simmered with the lentils, season ’em up with salt and vinaigrette, and have a salad that’s good with anything – either on its own, or with crumbled blue cheese in it.

moka pot

Moka Pot

This is probably the most important thing for me. If I wake up and can’t have coffee, I am a deranged, unpleasant substitute for a human being the rest of the day. And if there’s anything more irksome than waking up and trying to figure out how to make coffee in an unfamiliar kitchen while everyone else is still snoozing away the morning, can someone please tell me what it is? Okay, there are a few worse things, but let me tell you; morning is no time to mess with me until I’ve had my coffee.

(And please don’t take it personally if I don’t want to talk to you before I’ve had my morning coffee. But I do appreciate it when people shut up until I’ve had my first sip.)

I’ve fiddled with everyone’s fancy-schmancy espresso makers or tried to figure out those idiotic electric coffee makers with fifteen buttons to program it to do seemingly everything – except make a simple cup of coffee. While my hosts are dozing the morning away, I’m turning into a ball of frustration, which isn’t exactly the way I want to start my day.

Bialetti moka pot

I love my moka pot; you simply fill it with water, add coffee, and heat it up on the stovetop. But I am always sure to ask the night before how to turn on the stove, because another pet peeve of mine is complicated ovens and stoves. Why can’t they all just be on/off models, with simple knobs you turn? And what’s up with those electronic touch pads that require you to read the instruction booklet? Note: Stoves require, 1) On/Off switches, 2) Temperature adjustment knobs. And that’s it.

gingersnaps cookies

Insulated Baking Sheets

Cookie dough is one of the easiest things to bring when you’re a houseguest, and who doesn’t love cookies? Well, they’re hard to love when they’re burnt on the bottom. Many home ovens have irregular heating patterns. And even the best ovens have quirks. So I slide a cookie sheets with an insulated bottom (those with a cushion of air sandwiched between the pan and the heat of the oven) to gently diffuse and moderate the heat, so your cookies are always tops. (With no burnt backsides.)



A tube of spicy harissa, North African hot sauce, makes a great base for a fast marinade mixed with white wine or olive oil, and perhaps some mustard, garlic, or herbs. Harissa enlivens braises when a generous dab is added to the cooking liquid. And it can used to make an instant pasta sauce – albeit rather spicy – as well as a simple appetizer, mixed up with brined or cured olives.

sardines and mackerel

Tinned Sardines or Mackerel

Another quick appetizer is to open a can of sardines or mackerel, remove any bones, and mash the cute little fishies up with a bit of soft butter, salt and pepper, a squirt of lemon juice, and some chopped capers. It’s a very tasty (and healthy) spread on crackers or bread. And it’ll keep for a few days, too.

ancho chile powder

Red Pepper Powder

I don’t mean to complain, again, but did you ever get to someone’s house and find that their ground pepper was purchased at least ten years ago? I know it’s hard to keep up with expiration dates on pepper, but I don’t think anyone should be deprived of the pleasures of freshly ground black pepper. Nor have to eat pre-ground black pepper, no matter how new – or old – it is.

black pepper

I’m a fan of ancho, chipotle, cayenne, piment d’Espelette, and Korean pepper (called Gochugaru), and always arrive with a little jar for seasoning soups, stews, or even a simple plate of hard-cooked eggs with anchovies draped over them, which can be made in any kitchen.



Aside from bittersweet chocolate, coconut ice cream, toasted pecans, tortilla chips, späetzle, Boston cream pie, fried chicken, patty melts, espresso in Italy, duck confit, French fries with spicy peanut sauce, and the hot corned beef grinders they used to serve at the probably long-gone Dino’s pizza in Connecticut*, I am crazy about salt. I bring two kinds. One is a large grain sea salt, for cooking, and the other is a finishing salt, such as Maldon or Fleur de sel de Guérande, which is best dusted over salads and other foods right before eating.



Capers are great. And even the supermarket brands, like the one shown that I picked up in a mini-mart out in the countryside, are just fine for most uses. They add a little pickled je ne sais quoi to everything from dips to tomato-based pasta sauces. For a quick sauce, heat some in hot olive oil (watch out since they may sputter!), add slices of fresh garlic and cook until the garlic starts to brown gently. Remove from heat and toss hot pasta and salt in it. Add a knob of butter or a bit more olive oil if you want to at the last-minute, and top with lots of grated Parmesan cheese (that you brought, too), and freshly ground pepper, that you also were kind enough to bring as well. (That’s not on my list, but sometimes I’ll toss in a pepper mill as well. However I tend to use more red pepper powder theses days than black pepper, though.)

All Clad pan

A Good All-Purpose Pan

Grrrr! As a restaurant cook for most of my life, there is nothing that makes me happier than having a good pan to cook with. Flimsy cookware sucks and the people who make it deserve whatever fate is doled out to those who intentionally inflict misery on others. I got this All-Clad pan many moons ago (which goes by the fancy name, a saucier), which a friend of mine who worked at the company gave me to try out, and I fell in love with it. It holds about 3 qts (3l), can be used for anything, from jam-making to frying up some scrambled eggs to surprise your hosts when they finally wake up and find you drinking a good cup of coffee in their kitchen, along with toast made from good, Parisian bread. It cleans up easily and is hard to ruin. So I’ve started bringing it with me when I take trips away. But unlike all the other things I tote along, it’s the one thing that I make sure comes back with me.

A few other things I often bring with me; a bag of crisp topping to make an impromptu dessert, an ice cream scoop (and if I’m not going far, I’ll bring ice cream), a measuring cup or scale, garlic and shallots, unscented laundry detergent (the highly perfumed French stuff overpowers me and makes my eyes look like goji berries), a rasp-style cheese grater, ground coffee (always appreciated by hosts, especially those with guests who are big coffee drinkers), some homemade jam as a gift (also appreciated by hosts, especially French ones), a loaf of bread or two, and some decent olive oil and butter.

What do you bring?

*I found that the restaurant does still exist, but in a different location. And corned beef grinders, sadly, are no longer are on the menu.

Never miss a post!


  • Julie
    August 27, 2013 2:00am

    Good lord.

    Come visit me. You sound like the perfect houseguest. No laundry, and suitcases full of food.

  • August 27, 2013 2:04am

    i love reading this post. i don’t cook, so i usually bring a bottle of wine or two and some cake for my host

  • june2
    August 27, 2013 3:06am

    Really thought this was an April Fool’s Day post, til I felt a tinge of recognition and realized that I never go anywhere overnight without my own supply tote carrying my Vitamix blender, even on planes, as green smoothies are my coffee. As well as quite a lot of other necessities like one of those roll-up plastic cutting board sheets (so portable, though I store them flat) because so many places have the glass ones (why?? they’re horrible!). I also bring a sharp 6″ knife (just for travel) wrapped in my favorite kitchen towel. I find that towel so comforting when traveling for some reason.

  • Margie C.
    August 27, 2013 3:10am

    My favorite silicone spatula is from The Pampered Chef–they call it the “Classic Scraper.” I’ve had one for 20 years and it’s still in great shape, but I recently bought several more and gave them out as gifts.

  • August 27, 2013 3:14am

    You know, the one perk of getting old is that increasingly our friends have comfortable homes and beds to put us up in! That said, I’m totally on-board with pet peeves of cooking in someone else’s kitchen and those are knives (crazy lousy Ikea ones- what?!?), lack of tongs, proper thick-bottomed pots, cutting boards, spatulas that actually scrape and rags or counter wipes. Oh, and dirty pull-out drawers. That always creeps me out.

    In terms of gifts, I bring luxuries I’d enjoy, a basket of bio-organic Method cleaning products, or good olive oil, a trio of Aveda or Malin and Goertz shampoos, a bottle of mature french wine, or a block of aged DOP Parmesan and a sleeve of good jamon. Or a pre-paid voucher for a massage or restaurant meal nearby!

  • Laura Thompson
    August 27, 2013 3:48am

    I do everyone a favor and take them to the grocery store. But first I check to see what they have or have not. My specialty might not be appreciated (masala chicken with lentils and rice ) so if there are people who don’t appreciate curries I just let them pick out the things they need to make a special meal.

    I don’t like people messing about in my kitchen so until I know I’m welcome I just buy the best food and hand it over. Then, I give them a nice book, some of my home made peach vanilla jam or a knife as a thank you gift and we are all happy.

  • Dotcahill
    August 27, 2013 3:53am

    I always carry my own salt n pepper grinders n my own ground coffee but also need
    My tongs n a few good bottles of wine preferably my daughters sav blanc or cab (huge bear) napa

  • Sarahb1313
    August 27, 2013 3:57am

    You are hilarious… I believe you really do bring your whole pantry, utility drawer, and pots!

    But, I too bring some combo of stuff, even if just for dinner:

    Cookie dough, crisp topping, my own knives, my own seasonings, my air cookie sheets, yeah, very similar list….

    Love the post! Thanks!

  • Katie
    August 27, 2013 4:32am

    My Mom would love it if you brought your food and kitchen tools to her lake house. My Dad loves company and all their friends love the lake house, but poor Mom…lots of work for her! She is always happy if guests bring food and she is happy to turn over the kitchen anytime to anyone. She would especially love your cooking I am sure….

  • Norine
    August 27, 2013 4:55am

    No cleaver. I wouldn’t want anyone hacking my less tnan adequate cutting BOARD. One is supposed to really whack away with those things. I don’t like German chef’s knives for the same reason. The blade is too thick.

    But I once saw Yan half open a bell pepper, flatten a cleaver’s big blade over it and remove all the innards in one sweep. It’s an amazing sight, but I absolutely hate raw bell peppers, so – again, no cleaver. I might relent if I could show off that very dexterous move :-). Otherwise, your packing list seems about right.

    • August 27, 2013 7:43am
      David Lebovitz

      There’s a video out there of Martin Yan breaking down and de-boning a chicken in 18 seconds!

  • Reenie
    August 27, 2013 6:17am

    When I know I’ll be cooking, I bring my favorite seasoning for meat, Goya Adobo, usually pastry dough for one or two two-crust pies, cookie dough and my favorite coffee. If the house has a coffee maker that doubles as a NASA rocket, I bring my good old fashioned stove top percolator. Like you, I can’t stand to wait until my hosts get up to have my morning coffee. Here’s a question for you and your readers: how do you feel about turning over your kitchen to guests who want to “give you a break” and prepare a meal? Personally, I hate it. Watching others use my well cared for and much loved pots, pans and utencils is torture. I’d be interested in hearing how others feel. Love your site!

    • Jane Richardone
      August 27, 2013 6:23am

      I can’t stand anyone – anyone – helping me in the kitchen. Maybe it’s an oldest child thing? I might be able to manage a little company while I cook as long as they do not try to “help”. And I would never, never ever, turn over my kitchen to anyone.

      I have to go lie down now.

  • Cat
    August 27, 2013 6:43am

    Can’t go anywhere without an apron , coffee and a good knife !

    I often feel guilty for not leaving the kitchen to guests…..but David come to Provence
    anytime with ALL your stuff ;-)

  • Sandra
    August 27, 2013 7:19am

    And I make sure I’ve updated my personal recipe folder in Dropbox!

  • Laurie S.
    August 27, 2013 7:47am

    I like to bring port and my beautiful molded shortbread cookies, and (lately) my homemade sorbet or ice cream.
    Cheese and fresh fruit are a favourite to bring!
    There is a local shop where soaps, lotions, body salts and scrubs are made,
    I like to to bring a little basket of a selection of some of these things.
    I bring my happy to be there with my friends feeling.

    • Carrie Singer
      August 27, 2013 7:52am

      Video of Martin Yan preparing a green pepper.

  • Cathg1g2
    August 27, 2013 9:06am

    I LOVE this post and I am going to read through it and all the comments again and laminate a complete list for the hamper for our 2 week summer holidays.
    I am Australian of European descent and any friends we visit at the beach or in the bush have been delighted with my homemade goodies and commercial foodie gifts even if there is a store in town as we have probably already opened the wine and sat down when I dig out the cheese and crackers and quince paste and a lovely cheese knife and wooden board from home.
    Just LOVE the creativity of others.

  • August 27, 2013 10:43am

    This post resonated so much with me! I was raised to NEVER go to someone’s home empty handed, perhaps it’s a cultural thing! Even if it’s not a potluck, I always take something to thank the host, usually homemade foods, but if time is an issue, I will a least take flowers. Cookies, desserts, homemade jams and baked goods are always great options for brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner invitations, but if I am staying overnight, like you, I always make a point to cook. I take all the ingredients with me and any specialty pots and/or pans I might need like a paella pan or a couscoussier. Quite frankly though, my favorite is to take frozen marinated meats, bolognese sauce, pesto and frozen pasta (like lasagna or baked ziti).
    I restrain myself from taking my own condiments if I am invited for a meal, but I really wish I didn’t. There are times when the food needs so much more flavor that I wish I had a secret stash hidden in my purse. This is especially true if the cook is also serving children! Don’t children have taste buds too? Can you imagine chili with almost no seasoning…. I rest my case!

  • Katie
    August 27, 2013 1:24pm

    At my parents lake house my Mom would die from happiness if you showed up with all your food and stuff and took over her kitchen. My Dad loves having two homes (and so do their friends) but my poor Mom thinks it’s a lot of work — kind of like running a hotel only it’s not a hotel!

    • the Oracle
      August 27, 2013 6:10pm

      When my father wanted to go on vacation with Mom and four kids to a cabin with a wood-burning fireplace, my Mom said, “My idea of roughing it is a B&W TV at the Hilton. See you.”

  • Bebe
    August 27, 2013 3:56pm

    I am smiling at the stuff you lug along. I hate to cook in other persons’ kitchens. Always stunned to find an elegantly furnished home with a kitchen full of such derelict equipment. The Non-Cook’s Kitchen.

    As others have posted, come and visit any time. I favor most of the gear you are fond of – including that splendid Oxo peeler – and would enjoy watching you unpack your wares.


    PS. This morning’s paper mentioned Kouign-Amann, the Breton pastry you extolled and featured a few years ago. It seems that Sumi Chang, of our local Euro Pane bakery (wonderful stuff) now has it. Must try…

  • Natasja
    August 27, 2013 4:14pm

    When we stay with family for more then a night or in a rented house we will bring a similar list as to what you bring, especially a kitchen knife, a microplane grater, measuring cups and spoons (and a small weight conversion list), a good frying pan, tongs and food wise: tea, coffee, a french press insulated travel mug, herbs, spices, asian condiments, harissa, a hot sauce and bbq sauce.

    In our camping kitchen crate you can find a small single burner stove, a bbq, tongs, 2 proper knives, a cutting board and a grater. But we also bring a wok and an oyster knife :) And of course the herbs etc.

    We’re both on the road a lot too. My boyfriend stays in hotels at least once a week and I often decide last minute to stay with him, friends or family.
    So I have a mini overnight kit in my car containing a toothbrush and clean underwear, but also a set of cutlery, a good pocket knife and Earl Grey tea since so many of my friends only drink herbal tea and I really need some black tea in the morning.

    My boyfriend always bring a set of cutlery, a plastic glass and a plate so he can order take out instead of having to eat in a restaurant all the time. He also brings a bottle of wine, a small water boiler, coffee and his french press travel mug. We used a moka pot for a long time but this is so much easier while on the road. O, and last week he bought a cute little spice box to fill with salt, pepper and some hot chili powder to add to his travel bag.

  • Lisa
    August 27, 2013 4:30pm

    when my best friend moved closer to me, I bought her a couple knives as a housewarming present and told her they were actually for me when I come over to help her cook! She prefers those plastic things that “never have to be sharpened” for God’s sake.

    Last year, I also stocked her up with specialty salts and a black pepper grinder.

    I’m getting there, slowly! :-) She still won’t use the cast iron.

  • BlinkyTheFish
    August 27, 2013 4:41pm

    I always bring a couple good knives, a microplane grater, a lidded saute pan, Herbamare and Maldon sea salt, a full black pepper mill (so many people use that pre-ground black pepper – WHY?), Dr Stuart’s peppermint tea (the strongest out there, excellent for after dinner stomach settling on the occasions I don’t feel like a brandy or whisky) and because I am probably the most uptight person on the planet when it comes to coffee, a cafetiere, Illy ground espresso, powdered turkish coffee and an electric turkish/greek coffee maker.

    This is mainly going on non city break holiday type gear (bar the turkish coffee stuff – that pretty much goes everywhere). When I go to other people’s houses I usually bring something I baked, and or a bottle of rose wine (rose seems to be the Goldilocks option as there are always some people who don’t drink red and some who don’t drink white – right now obsessing over Minuty Rosé et Or). When I city-break and am staying at a hotel, I always bring silverware, bottle opener, and hot sauce.

  • August 27, 2013 4:48pm

    I would die from shock if anyone arrived with items ready to prepare a meal for me! What a lovely and thoughtful list (even if it’s secretly just to keep yourself sane)… I’ll make a note to not be alarmed if you ever show up on my doorstep with a cleaver in hand ;) haha!

  • August 27, 2013 5:09pm

    Oooh, thank you for this post! Every time I visit friends I think about whether I should bring my own kitchen equipment along. And mostly, I chicken out because I’m afraid they might consider me rude.
    But your posts – and your readers comments – shows me that there is absolutely nothing wrong with bringing these things along. (And it inspires me to some great gifts, too. You could casually bring along some thing – and then just leave them as a host gift. That way you and your host can cook together – and they will remember afterwards when using what’s left of the red pepper powder, the salt or the lentils.)
    Also – bringing cookie dough along is probably the best of all ideas!!! Awesome!


    • August 27, 2013 5:34pm
      David Lebovitz

      When in doubt, I always ask. People hosting other people on vacation, are usually on vacation themselves, and personally, I love when people pitch in. (Especially with the clean-up!)

  • Christine
    August 27, 2013 5:25pm

    Completely different topic: something you need in your new kitchen, providing you’re on the ground floor.

  • amy
    August 27, 2013 5:38pm

    Loved this post. When I first saw the title, Things I Bring When I’m a Guest…my
    first thought was “Um, toothbrush…”. Then, I read down and spot “marinated lamb or pork shoulder…” and suddenly re-appreciated which blog i subscribe to, and why!

    Actually, I too have been known to travel with things like green lentils, spices, large wedges or Reggiano, even tacos – but usually for longer journeys. I will be a better weekend guest from now on.

  • Hannah Coleman
    August 27, 2013 7:25pm

    Are you sure you’re invited because of your cooking skills and not because they like your company?
    I like to bring homemade things–marinated olives, marinated goat cheese, cookies(already baked).
    Your list only works if you’re going a short distance and traveling by car, and, of course, only if you are visiting very good friends.
    I would be offended if an invited guest showed up at my house with all the stuff you mentioned.

  • Allison
    August 27, 2013 9:07pm

    Since moving to France, I have discovered not all boulangeries are created equal. It is certainly worth a few extra blocks walk to find the right one. But we country folk have a few nice ones here in Beaune. Come visit. Feel free to bring whatever else you would like. :)

    P.S. Love, love, love your blog.

  • Nathalie
    August 27, 2013 11:20pm

    Things I didn’t see mentioned (though I may’ve missed) that I bring:

    – cork trivets (in lieu of bringing large serving bowls, and in case the host doesn’t have any, a trivet in a pinch allows me to set down a pot on the table from which folks can help themselves)

    – my sugar of choice (i really can’t stand splenda and other such, what I call disparagingly, “fake sugars” – nothing worse than having only this to sprinkle atop any desserts you bake or to add to your coffee)

    – honey (i love hot tea and don’t like adding sugar to it; it’s also a lovely addition to yogurts and fresh fruits…)

  • Sara
    August 27, 2013 11:57pm

    Jane, I am laughing hysterically at your “I have to go lie down now.” I’m with you girl.

    • Nancy
      August 28, 2013 12:49am

      Isn’t it the truth – usually it’s their “help” is more trouble than it’s worth. Either I do the work or someone else does the work, but not together.

  • polly
    August 28, 2013 2:22am

    “… trying to make dinner with someone’s steak knife that they inherited from their grandmother who got it thirty-five years ago at the bank when they were giving away knives if you opened an account.”

    That’s… oddly specific, David.

    Anyway, I usually bring a cooked foodstuff and/or wine/liquor for my hosts. When I’m requested to make a certain specialty for a house party, I usually bring extra ingredients so the host can also try my dish when the guests have left. The tools I bring will depend on what I’ll be cooking. We once made okonomiyaki for a house party and brought extra dashi stock, seaweed, bonito flakes and bulldog sauce to leave at the house.

    • Carrie Singer
      August 28, 2013 2:28am


      David may not have lived in a time when housewives were taught to economize running the home, did not have control of their money, and even so, had to economize. Some got their dishes, fairly nice ones, at the bank. No sense of history, or what people went through so he could play at being cool today.

      • Helen
        August 28, 2013 2:51am

        David is almost my age so I know he remembers grocery stores rewards of pots/pans, knives, dishes, glassware etc. as well as bank rewards; these promotions where still taking place in the late 70’s and early 80’s, at least in Idaho. A lot of us have to economize where and whenever possible but I’m unwilling to deal with inferior products and food when I’m cooking at home or with others. I refuse to buy inferior products, especially those made in China, but will purchase the best I can afford at the time and upgrade when possible. David’s posts have led me to some great utensils and food/recipes. All these comments have been fun to read, such a great and thought provoking post–thank you David.

  • August 28, 2013 4:12am

    Fabulous post!
    And thanks for the link to the WSJ soft French baguette story!
    Your links are the best.

  • Bronwyn
    August 28, 2013 4:30am

    I agree Sophia. My kitchen is my kitchen and guests, be they family or strangers, do best not to intrude in it. Bottles of wine are always welcome though, as is a gift of food “as it comes”. A friend once came to stay at my house via the vegetable shop, and brought stuff he thought I might be stumped by. Mystery box sort of thing. It was great fun, I made them vegetarian okonomiyaki.

  • August 28, 2013 7:57am
    David Lebovitz

    parisbreakfast: It was funny because just the other day, I went to get a baguette and the baker apologizes, saying he only had baguettes left that were bien cuite (well-cooked.) Of course, I was thrilled and told him to please keep making them (!)

    polly: There was a time when laundry soap had glassware in it, as a gift to the consumer. (I would imagine nowadays, packing anything with glass in a big box of powder is not really advisable!) Gas stations did the same thing, giving away a glass, encouraging you to come back and fill up, to collect the whole set. Banks also used to give away things like toasters, a set of steak knifes, electric blankets, etc – the size/value of the gift was based on how much money you initially deposit. It’s pretty funny to think about it nowadays.

    Allison: It’s kind of hit-or-miss out in the countryside, as I’ve found. There is a great boulangerie in Couloummiers in the center of town that had amazing baguettes, but not too far were ones that had that lousy bread with the deceptively brown crust, but the fluffy white interior when you cut inside. Both had long lines. (Don’t know why people want that soft, fluffy bread when they could have a really great baguette for the same price…)

    • Miriam
      August 28, 2013 11:16am

      It’s that cognitive dissonance thing – the French are convinced that all bread made in France is better that all bread made anywhere else, and when it isn’t good, their brains can’t deal with it so they decide it is good by definition.

  • Dermot
    August 28, 2013 11:06am


    Love your post. As a house guest, I like to bring my Le Grand Palais 180 with me, I have a fold up one that Duchamp once used in New York. Invaluable and I keep my knives and pans inside the oven which is quite handy.


  • August 28, 2013 11:31am

    HI David, that is really funny to imagine someone bringing all that at the same time :) I sometimes bring tea, because good tea is sometimes hard to find (everyone I know have coffee ready for me in the morning, they know better than doing otherwise). I don’t own a car, so I tend to buy stuff “sur place” instead. I like bringing spices from izrael in Paris, as well as their black pepper. And sometimes I bring English food. that is so hard to find outside Paris. But good for you, you must be a cherished guest.

  • Andrea
    August 28, 2013 12:28pm

    If some schmuck turned up at my gaffe armed to the gills with kitchen knives, apple corers, melon ballers, lethal Asian meat cleavers, fancy salt, I’d say mate………come in and get to work. The kitchen’s straight ahead.

    Love your posts David. Great idea for guests to come armed and ready.

    Andrea from London

  • Barbara
    August 28, 2013 12:36pm

    David –

    Another fabulous post. Wow – I love this list. I’ve bookmarked the site for All Clad, and knives. Speaking of knives – what’s the best way to sharpen them? I’ve yet to find a place to take them to be sharpened, and have heard electric sharpeners can damage them. Yet reputable knife companies make electric sharpeners. Huh.

    What do you use, and recommend?

    Thanks so much.

    • Carrie Singer
      August 28, 2013 7:07pm

      Out here in Indio, CA, (as in Palm Springs/the Coachella Festival),there is a retired sharpener who donates his time to the Senior Center. Once a month, by appointment, he does up to five items for a small donation ($1/pc).

      Who lives in Indio? We do.

  • August 28, 2013 12:45pm
    David Lebovitz

    Andrea: Thanks for the best comment – so far! You must either be a line cook, or caterer. In either case… I’m on my way…

    Barbara: The best way to keep knives sharp is not to let anyone else use them (!) and to take care of them yourself, which means never putting them in the dishwasher. And if you take them to a place to get sharpened, make sure it is a quality knife place, as I’ve had less-than-steller sharpeners grind the blade down too much. Although purists may scoff, this knife sharpener does a very, very good job. It was recommended by a friend in Tuscany who cooks for a living, and it works really well, and the price is right.

    Miriam: It was funny because when I posted that article on my Facebook page, a few people chimed in, saying it was “the Americans” who liked their bread soft. But the article interviewed French bakers (who don’t like making undercooked bread) but did so because their French clientele preferred it. It always surprises me to hear people requesting baguettes “not too cooked.” (In France, of course.)

  • ag
    August 28, 2013 1:06pm

    Where can you buy Maldon salt in Paris?

  • Suzanne Hamlin
    August 28, 2013 1:09pm

    It’s been three days now since your original post and I’m about to sign off now on receiving comment alerts: my email queue is jammed and I’m falling behind on all the things I really have to do. This has been a fascinating exchange between you and your informed and articulate e-readers.
    What about turning your original post, selected comments and your answers into an e-book? Seriously. Included could be your answers to specific questions–how to sharpen knives, your favorite peeler, ad infinitum–as well as –here’s the “book” part–recipes for the marinated meats, cookies and so on that you tote with you to off-site occasions. Even for those of us who are not going anywhere anytime soon, David Takes a Trip would be a constant resource and inspiration for the daily joys of cooking and eating.
    Meanwhile, thank you for your generous sharing at the virtual Communal Table–
    A Trip in itself!

  • August 28, 2013 1:42pm

    Hello! I’m a fan of your work and fellow chef. Heading to paris to host a chefs and foodies dinner (parisians and a few italians, expats) party 16 September. Trying to find a suitable place for seated dinner for 20 plus kitchen where I can cook. I Airbnb for my own use but would like to find someplace great. Perhaps you know of some rentable space? I would appreciate your suggestions immensely! Also join us! You can see my work on Instagram, twitter, Facebook as @allfivesenses
    Thank you!

    You might want to contact one of the cooking schools, such as La Cuisine or Cook ‘n With Class, about kitchen rentals. -dl

  • August 28, 2013 2:12pm

    Great post. I too am often carrying a truckload of stuff with me to cook for guests. I have never thought of bringing a pan with me, but have carried heavy pie dishes! I like the idea of just taking along the pastry and baking the pie at the other end.

  • August 28, 2013 4:41pm

    Cheese grater and/or microplane.


    Muffins that can easily be added to whatever the host has planned for first breakfast. I bring them in a freezer ziploc bag so the host has the option of freezing them and enjoying them after we’ve left ;-)

  • August 28, 2013 5:43pm

    I don’t pack as much as you do, unless I’m foreseeing a stay in a locale where essential supplies are hard to come by, but indeed, a reliable source of good coffee (in my case a Handpresso Hybrid) and good knives are a must.
    My kit includes one serrated-edge all-purpose 7″, a titanium chef knife, a N°10 Opinel (with corkscrew), a “Bee” blade sharpener, a soft-steel paring knife, and a pair of ceramic blade 5-inchers (always have a spare).

    Other essentials include a bamboo spatula/spoon (all-purpose, unbreakable and kind to pans), and a Zyliss serrated soft-skin peeler : perhaps the most remarkable improvement to my kit in the last two decades (along with the Handpresso), and which I recommend heartily over any other peeler, knife or Y-styled — I no longer draw the line at tomatoes…

    If weight isn’t an issue, I may take along a cleaver and a ceramic-coated flat-bottom wok, too.
    As for ziploc-style bags, those warrant their permanent pocket in my bag, restocked as it flattens !

  • Kate
    August 28, 2013 7:45pm

    I’m reading this as I fly to Paris to spend two months exploring the markets, neighborhoods and cultural scene. As a pastry chef I plan to do a lot of cooking. And yes I did bring a few items…. I took my “mini” citrus zester that I got used to having in my chef’s jacket, my new ceramic knives, mustard powder as I was warned that was hard to come by. Is this true?? And in place of my KitchenAID, I took my handheld wand mixer. I can puree, whip and grind…. But now I’m thinking I need to email my husband and get him to send me a few more items. The problem might be that if I ask him for a kitchen item and describe it precisely and it’s location, I still might be surprised at what comes in the mail. It’s going to be an adventure all the way around.

    • miriam
      August 28, 2013 7:50pm

      Definitely very hard to find mustard powder. And Allspice berries, for some reason. And all things New Mexican, which isn’t a real issue in the pastry business, but hard for a new Mexican…

  • Aviva Shore
    August 28, 2013 7:45pm

    Everything revolves around the kitchen (our favorite place) in our house here in Cuernavaca Mexico, rather like the movie “Como Agua para Chocolate”.
    I read your post and ALL the comments too! Thank you so much for all this information! I learned something new! From the comments too! The tricky thing here in Mexico is how to charm the cook, yes-suh, everyone has a cook. ALL cooks here love you if you cook WITH them, it is their territory after all, they are the boss and you are the “pinche”! Ha! and bring them a gift……for the kitchen, of course! Cooks are VERY possesive, and won`t let anyone in the kitchen so they are suspicious of houseguests.We always encourage our houseguests to get in the kitchen with us and cook! And a good time is always had by all. We also are houseguests, visit friends and family, stay in their houses too, and do what you do, yes we schelp all that and more! Ha! Especially the granola, from your recipe: “The best granola recipe!” Just yesterday we baked the granola……

  • August 28, 2013 8:15pm

    For our beach rental I bring many of the items you describe plus almond oil and a ziploc of dry ingredients for granola (plus maple syrup and olive oil to add in and then use for other things)

  • Sheri
    August 28, 2013 9:13pm


    Oh My Gosh!!! I’m not as crazy as I thought I was!! Well……hmmmmmm….uhh, ok. I have always brought “my kitchen bits” as my Mom called them. I bring the good ground coffee and press simply in self defense, and the honey, and little bottles of seasonings, and baggies of fresh herbs, and my knives, and cutting board, just a little one, and zippy baggies and….well my list can be long or short depending on where I’m going. And who’s place it is. And who all will be there. And for how long, etc. I started bringing my knives because every time I would go home to see my parents I would end up having to use these terrible things that my Mom bought because they came in a “pretty set.” Do what….? And the rest just accumulated over time. I’ve always known my other cook friends carried goodie bags with them when they traveled, but, I love knowing others do the same. Your posts are something I truly look forward to. Thanks for another excellent one!!

  • Ruth
    August 28, 2013 10:06pm

    Those bank give-aways? My favorite ice-cream servers are the 3 that came with my husband, and they were originally from The Mediapolis Savings Bank in Iowa. I stayed six weeks in Paris at an AIRBnB last spring —had to buy several of the items mentioned in this blog. Have been mentally adding to the list since then (I would bring my Microplane box grater—love it!), and now my list is even longer. Thank you, all!

    • miriam
      August 28, 2013 10:33pm

      Microplane box grater – sounds like the best of all possible worlds!

  • fio
    August 28, 2013 11:11pm

    – you;
    – then my dad’s olive oil, from tuscany. unbeatable. it turns the most sad of the salads into an edible meal;
    – a high grade jasmin green tea. loose leaf. you don’t want to look at my face when the host excitedly dig into his more remote drawer and find a dusty box of lipton tea of various mixed artificial flavours like mango/blackberry/peach of desert – kind of tea.

    thanks david, great post!

  • August 29, 2013 1:49am

    Wine! And cookies, since they won’t fall apart in transit if wrapped carefully. I try to avoid other people’s kitchens when travelling, since it’s inevitably an exercise in frustration to use someone else’s equipment, especially if they don’t cook!

  • August 29, 2013 2:34am

    You are a hero! Great article.

  • Katie
    August 29, 2013 3:02am

    Great pasta recipe you included — it is similar to one I use except mine has a generous amount of parsley in it(old NYTimes cookbook Craig Claiborne recipe) I never thought about including capers in it — thanks! Also interesting to hear about harissa — must try it :)

  • Jessie
    August 29, 2013 4:10am

    I’m so grateful for this post. My birthday is imminent, and you’ve given me a lovely long list of things to suggest as gifts. Honestly how have I survived since my beloved moka pot disappeared into the Erwigkeit?

  • Maria
    August 29, 2013 8:13am

    You can be a guest at our house anytime

  • August 29, 2013 9:58am

    Wow I want to see you suitcase! I bet you get all sweaty when you have to leave for the airport and realise you can’t take your knives and some of the foods with you…
    I really make my suitcase look like hand luggage. I usually carry beer, as I’m from Belgium, I used to carry chocolate but found most countries have better chocolate now, I always carry Maldon sea salt. During the winter I will also bring Belgian cheese as well.

  • Caroline
    August 29, 2013 1:28pm

    Please come as my guest in Horse Country Virginia or for Thanksgiving in Rome !

  • Jimmy Jay
    August 29, 2013 8:48pm

    I bring a small carry-on bag so no room for extras. I hate staying with people & hate cooking in their kitchens due to dull knives, incorrect pans etc. But if I do stay with someone I bring a gift (from Martha Stewart suggestions) & try to not let it be about me and instead adapt to the house. It might mean no coffee or the wrong kind of bread but it’s only for a moment.

  • careyb
    August 30, 2013 4:19am

    Moka pot, yes!! I’ve been toting one near and far for 25 years. Absolutely necessary, especially after a night drinking the wine I bring to share. If in close quarters, I recommend grinding your coffee at night while gathering up those empty wine bottles. It just may extend your own quiet coffee time in the morning.

  • Rachel
    August 30, 2013 11:16am

    After a mental debate my obsessive nature won out and have to include this: I love my mocha pot too… bought one the first time I was in france (at a large supermarket) after searching for an eternity and pointlessly for one in SA. I noticed that yours is aluminium and as having a bit of OCD when it comes to aluminium, can I suggest switching to stainless steel? I know you’ll lose all the flavour of the old one… but your brain will thank you! I noticed one of your posts suggested aluminium free baking powder and I loved that you pointed it out. I always wondered what gave that bitter taste to baking powder. Aluminium is quite reactive, so I always figure in a coffee pot where there’s high water pressure and heat is probably one of the best ways to increase your aluminium intake… which might not be a great idea. :-)

  • Charlotte
    August 30, 2013 4:07pm

    What a great article! I’m so glad I’ve finally subscribed, I love reading these every morning with my breakfast.

    I bring my moka maker too. Olive oil and lemons. Smoked black pepper.

  • August 30, 2013 9:35pm

    Wonderful post! I would add a decent cutting board (I particularly hate the tempered glass ones or flimsy plastic) and a microplane to the list! Have a lovely weekend :)

  • Michael Duffy
    August 31, 2013 1:17am

    … and a partridge in a pear tree!

  • Shanna
    August 31, 2013 8:39am

    Occasionally I bring my Kitchen Aid mixer, a set of good knives, a spring-form pan, a loose bottom tarte pan & my marble rolling pin. Oh… & my baking stone. Thank goodness for milk crate to tote all this stuff to my favorite home-away-from-home.

  • Alexander Lobrano
    September 1, 2013 1:17am

    I love this post, David! Reminded me of the favorite thing I’ve ever seen anyone bring to someone else’s house, which was several years ago when a bunch of friends gathered at a rented house in Provence, and one from LA showed up with three Tetrapaks of chicken stock that she’d actually packed inside of her luggage, a risky move unless you have hard-sided bags, and even then…. But her impulse was good, so I often bring a few cubes of organic beef, chicken and vegetable bouillon with me, since I’d be at a loss without stock, even from cubes. Sure, you could make it on the spot, but I find that you (understandably) wear out your welcome in the kitchens of even the most gastronomically enlightened friends, since they want to host or hostess.

  • Adi Kahan
    September 1, 2013 9:05am

    We bring along our wine glasses (Riedel Vinum Extreme Pinot Noir & Chardonnay). For some reason Riedel have not been successful in convincing restaurants (even 3 star restaurants) to buy them.

  • September 1, 2013 8:55pm

    1. The Moka, I’ve been living in Italy for 3 years. The Moka comes with me and the Italian espresso too.
    2. Wine. For the same reasons you listed.
    3. assorted spices likely to serve up grilled meats and tossed veggies with flavor
    and for something different

    though it’s not something I bring, I set the table with linens and whatever random flatware and dishes I can find. I often find myself in houses where dinner together is not the norm. So, if I am the reason for a dinner, I make the dinner inviting in both taste and atmosphere. Love your post David, really apropos!

  • Alexandra
    September 2, 2013 10:35am

    a good whisk. once i was invited to a friend`s house to make some simple cream desserts like panna-cotta and company, and at the very last minute was told that there was no whisk in the house. i mean: hooooow and whyyyyyy?!!!!!

  • September 3, 2013 12:13am

    I bring my own bath towel, haha. But I do tend to leave things behind, like frozen waffles or pancakes after a huge brunch, or frozen pasta or pizza dough. You’ve sort of broadened my horizons, though! Your hosts must love your visits.

  • September 3, 2013 1:09am

    Mon cher David,

    I very much enjoy your blog. Can you please expand on how you make your coffee with the Moka pot? i.e. what kind of coffees you use, what grind, how you go about it etc.

    I have read how others use it but I am only interested in how you use it!



  • Katia
    September 4, 2013 4:00am

    For recent lake getaway I found these to be essential:
    French press
    Ground coffee
    Smoked paprika, dried rosemary, dried cilantro
    I missed my knives deeply! Never again doing a similar vacation without them!

  • Emily
    September 4, 2013 4:28am

    i’ve been developing a cabin / car camping kitchen list that’s somewhat like yours and includes:

    – cutting board
    – knife
    – salt in a jar & small pepper mill
    – twine
    – tongs
    – tea towel/s
    – lighter

    food can be procured near the campsite, and everything else falls into ‘mess kit, bring your own’, but this is the stuff that inevitably no one else remembers.

  • September 19, 2013 10:20pm

    I’m known to bring fresh fruits & veggies. I’m considering adding a box of teaposy as a gift for our hosts.

    • Susan Aberg
      September 19, 2013 11:08pm

      A mini stove-top espresso maker and small amount of good balsamic vinegar and some small glass parfait glasses. Then I make a dessert for my host and hostess: Affogato – and – if I’m there long enough: ice cream with good balsamic vinegar (tastes like creme brulee’ if you use the right/small amount)

  • Susan Aberg
    September 19, 2013 11:08pm

    PS I gift the host and hostess with the nice parfait glasses, too!