Welcome to Chow with Me, where Chowhound’s executive editor Hana Asbrink shares all of the irresistible things she’s cooking, eating, reading, buying, and more. Today: the best food gifts and supermarket souvenirs she loves hauling back from France.
What kind of traveler are you? Do you get a thrill out of building loose itineraries around lunch and dinner reservations? Do you scour local supermarkets and squeal with glee when you see chestnut cream in a tube? Turn into the actual heart eye emoji while roaming the snack aisles? If you could identify yourself in any and all of these scenarios, I applaud you: We’d be great travel mates!
My love for Chowhound started many moons ago, long before services like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and certainly Instagram were around to help dictate the stops on food-focused trips. Restaurants, traditional markets, and fancy epiceries would feature prominently, of course, but to this day, the highlights of my journeys to any city—near or far—center around acquiring edible souvenirs from trips to the nearest supermarket (and it seems the Chowhound community is in agreement). On the outside, they all kind of look the same; but a closer inspection of aisles yield fascinating cultural gems that simply *make* the trip for me.
On a recent trip to Paris, I found myself in my favorite supermarché (Monoprix, naturellement), eyes wide at the relative Champagne deals to be had and meandering to my heart’s content. Not only did I delight in all of the great new-to-me snacks and pantry ingredients I’d get to enjoy upon my return, I was able to stock up on the best gifts I knew my friends and family back home would appreciate.
If you’re lucky enough to have a trip to France in your future, plan to skip the fridge magnets and pack that extra bag for all of the great edible souvenirs easily found in supermarkets instead—after all, those butter biscuits won’t pack themselves. (I haven’t touched non-edibles yet, but see a local’s guide to scoring treasures at Paris flea markets!)
Amora L’Extra Forte for le win. They are not joking about the “l’extra”—a must-try for any true moutarde fans.
Cookies and Biscuits
If you’ve never had a Gavottes Crêpe Dentelle, you’re in for a treat. These light yet buttery rolled-up biscuits hail from Brittany, France’s butter-loving region(that’s saying something) and feel like a little luxury in their individual, gold foil wrappers. Another favorite: classic butter biscuits, like La Mère Poulard’s heavenly sablés pur beurre.
My very favorite bar is the Côte d’Or Dark Chocolate with Almonds. You will regret eating your last one, so make you sure pick up at least double the amount you think you need. (They refrigerate well! Just bring to room temperature before snapping off a small block.)
The delicate texture of Le Saunier De Camargue Fleur De Sel Sea Salt is just the perfect finishing touch for everything from salads and steaks, to brownies and chocolate chip cookies.
Le Puy lentils are French green lentils with a fancy AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) designation. These Sabarot lentils are especially lovely because they retain their shape, and taste just as good warm as they are cold.
One of my favorite solo dinner hacks is cracking open a tin of fancy sardines and enjoying them atop hunks of crusty baguette (or even Triscuits, as Prune fans know well). If you have energy to open a jar of cornichons or wash off some radishes, you pretty much have a complete meal. One of my favorite brands is Rödel, which you can find at the swoon-worthy La Grande Epicerie de Paris, but I also enjoy the Connétable brand, easily found in most markets.
Your homemade crêpes (or heck, even standard American pancakes) will be made infinitely more memorable with a generous smear of chestnut spread, or crème de marrons. The old school Clement Faugier brand comes in a handy tube, perfect for squeezing into awkward wedges of suitcase space.
Sure, we get Bonne Maman jams stateside, but we don’t always get all of the great varieties sold in France, like the limited-edition Nectarine Blanche & Fleur de Jasmin flavor. Luckily, the Mirabelle (shown above), or golden plum, can be found Stateside.
If you’re lucky enough to be staying in a hotel or Airbnb equipped with a freezer, freeze a couple of blocks of beurre, tuck them into a zip-top bag, and be so proud of yourself when you retrieve them from your suitcase once safely across the pond. Échiré and Beurre D’Isigny Demi Sel are some solid (get it) choices.
Okay so I’m cheating a bit here: The dried apricots and prunes I brought back on this trip are not from Monoprix, but La Maison Plisson, a dreamy café-grocery store you can easily spend some time in. Never have I had dried fruit so plump and fresh! Best enjoyed with a bit of aged cheese and perhaps even a sip of Sauternes after your first meal back.
Related Reading: An Insider’s Guide to Paris
What do you like to bring back from your travels (to France, or elsewhere) abroad? Let me know in the comments below!
Photo: Hana Asbrink