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Bring Back Gifts With Good Taste

By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 21, 2004; Page G06

For gifts that are authentic and go well with wine and a slide show, bring back foods and beverages indigenous to a particular country, state or island. When shopping for edible gifts, though, don't forget that they must clear U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Look for such permissible products as specialty chocolates and candies, wine and other bottled drinks, bread spreads, dried herbs and spices, and prepackaged meats and cheeses.

Prices range from a couple of bucks for sundries you can find in grocery stores or markets (jams, spices, biscuits, cheeses) to double digits for wine, liquor and caviar, to hundreds of dollars for premium goodies, such as high-end Italian balsamic vinegar.


(File Photo by Mark Finkenstaedt for The Washington Post)

Here are a dozen countries and a sampling of their foodstuffs that are made locally but can be consumed globally.

Australia

Vegemite is the thick, yeasty, tar-colored bread spread that Americans don't get -- in more ways than one. For less squeamish tastes, the country has 69 wine-growing regions, but the best-known vintages come from Hunter Valley in New South Wales, Barossa Valley in South Australia, Margaret River in Western Australia and Yarra Valley in Victoria. Pick up a bottle of Penfolds Grange, a robust shiraz or a smooth port. Part of the Foster's family, Victoria Bitter is an iconic Aussie beer.

In the weird meat category, there's dried or jerkied emu, kangaroo and goanna (lizard -- talk about tough meat). For condiments and spreads, look for cabernet paste, good with blue cheese and crackers (try the Maggie Beer brand); fig jam from Hunter Valley; and Verjuice, a stand-in for lemon juice or vinegar.

Brazil

Make an original caipirinha cocktail with cachaca, the sugar cane-distilled alcohol, plus some sugar and limes. Pao de Queijo, or cheese rolls, are as tasty from a mix as they are from the bakery; look for the Yoki brand in supermarkets. For gourmet coffee, stand-out blends include Bom Dia gourmet suave, Cafe Brasileiro, Cafe Pele and Cafe Damasco. Bring back a box of Bis, small chocolate wafers, or a travel-friendly version of the rain-forest cupuacu fruit, blended into jams and chocolate.

France

Skip the brie and Beaujolais, and sample some of France's regional finds. Among them: Maille mustard from the company's Dijon or Paris shop; Brittany's galettes de Pont-Aven, a buttery cookie; Drome's nougat de Montelimar, a confection made of nuts and lavender honey; and Perigord's foie gras and truffles -- sold separately or indulgently mixed in one can.

In Languedoc, cassoulet of Castelnaudary, the hearty meat-and-beans dish, is sold ready to transport. Normandy is the hub of salted-butter caramels and alcohol-tinged apple cider, while Ardeche has the lock on chestnut cream, tasty on cake or straight out of the container.

India

Consider such popular Indian condiments as mango or lemon pickles, mango chutney or the ultimate curry chaser, papads or papadams, dried lentil chips spiked with Indian spices. Among sweets, often sold in elegant hand-crafted boxes, are sugary petha from Agra, West Bengal's milky cham cham and sandesh, and the carroty gajar ka halwa of northern India.

Bakharwadi from Maharashtra, theple/thepla from Gujarat and bhujia from Rajasthan -- are crunchy,delicious snacks.


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