Sure t-shirts and postcards are nice, photos are lovely, and trinkets make wonderful gifts. But during our travels, we like to leave some room in our suitcase for souvenirs of a different kind, the edible stuff. Because even though photos show where we went and what we saw, food reminds us of how a city tastes and smells.
So as you book your ticket and map out your route, here are a few edible souvenirs to keep an eye out for: dulce de leche, Fernet, sal de gusano, and more! Here some of our favorite edible souvenirs from across Latin America. Bon Voyage!
Fernet from Argentina
It's hard to imagine an Argentinean BBQ without a bottle of Fernet on the table. The popular liquor may be served as a digestif; others prefer it as an aperitif, generally drunk on the rocks, mixed with cola. It's also popular at festivals and events, where street vendors carry a bottle around and will sell the liquor per shot.
Fernet has a taste that is reminiscent of licorice (but without the sugar), however, in fact it's more a herbal concoction of which the ingredients are secret. No doubt it's an acquired taste for most foreigners but once you've come to appreciate you'll definitely want to take it back home with you in your suitcase. - Karin-Marijke Vis
Sal de Maras from Peru
The day before leaving Lima, you find yourself standing in a market eyeing purple corn, camu camu berries, maka roots, a loche pumpkin… All temptingly carry-on sized, but sure to get you into trouble at customs. Instead take the chance to add to your kitchen geek cred and head home with a bag of Peruvian pink salt.
Maras salt, loved for its mild, almost sweet flavor, is harvested from a set of pools terraced into a mountainside in the Sacred Valley near Cusco. The salt’s light pink color is thanks to iron and other minerals deposited by the river that trickles down through the pools, owned and worked by the local community. Sprinkle it on your salads, bake a whole fish in it, bathe in it! - Greg de Villiers
Crema de Ají from Chile
Chile, the country that sounds like it’s named for a pepper, uses the word ají to talk about hot peppers. There’s the ají cacho de cabra, ají cristal, aji amarillo, all sold fresh or dried at the market. And then there’s ají chileno. Ají chileno (also called crema de ají) is usually the third in the ketchup/mustard/ají trifecta at your local empanada shop, usually coming in a green squeeze bottle. It can be used straight out of the bottle, but people often stir it into their fresh, homemade bread-dipping sauces, to lend some spice without having to chop peppers. The crema de ají that comes in the bag is often thicker, but the bottle seems a bit safer to transport as a souvenir to remind you of every empanada or sopaipilla eaten late into the night during your time in Chile. - Eileen Smith
Dulce de Leche from Argentina
Since you can’t tuck a steak in your suitcase to take home, toss on the grill and reminisce of your time in Argentina, the very next best thing is a jar of the golden-brown bliss that is dulce de leche. It is the Argentine answer to Nutella, to peanut butter; it works at breakfast on your toast, at lunch over just about any dessert imaginable and at night, in your darkened kitchen when you pass the fridge… you know it’s there, waiting. So maybe two jars then. – Greg de Villiers
Miel de Palma from Chile
Miel de palma (literally: palm honey), the boiled sap of the Chilean palm, is Chile’s answer to maple syrup. It has a lighter flavor, not quite so mineral-rich, but goes great on fruit, especially bananas or celestinos, Chile’s rolled up crepes with manjar (like dulce de leche). It isn't pure boiled sap, but rather has sucrose, glucose, and coconut water in it as well, a recipe that’s been unchanged in recent memory. Chilean miel de palma comes in two different containers, a can with a label design that looks like it might be from the 1950s, and the other, that practically screams “I’m a souvenir,” a bottle crowned with plastic palm fronds. At my family’s house in New York, it has made its way onto ice cream and on pancakes. - Eileen Smith
Vanilla Extract from the Dominican Republic
I thought all vanilla extract was the same until a friend brought me some from the Dominican Republic. It is rich and flavorful but not too strong, making it perfect for anything from ice creams and cookies to cakes and candies. Must be the warm sun and tropical breezes, because this vanilla takes the cake! Whenever she's in the D.R. she always packs a few bottles of vanilla for me and I must admit, my tastebuds and my sweet confections are the better for it! – Carolyng Gomes
Merkén/Merquén from Chile
Merquén is not an acquired taste that only people who’ve lived in Chile will love. It’s a ripened smoked medium spicy pepper (goat’s horn pepper), mixed with ground cumin and salt, a condiment of the indigenous Mapuche people that has spread to much of the rest of Chile. In the markets of Temuco, near where much of the Mapuche population of Chile lives, merquén has other herbs mixed in as well, including a kind of savory. You can buy the spice in bulk from those markets, or at Santiago’s La Vega, in gift-ready canisters and shakers from upscale supermarkets and small gourmet shops and at the last-chance airport shopping spree. As a last resort, buy it from the supermarket in the regular spice section. Merquén has less smoke and spice than chipotle, and works great in stews, chili, on eggs or (my non-traditional favorite), on a grilled cheese sandwich. - Eileen Smith
Tortillas from Mexico City
A few years ago, I asked my aunt for the best place to buy corn tortillas, and her not too helpful answer was Mexico. Though she'd retired to the United States, she'd spent most of her adult life in Mexico and couldn't point to one store-bought US brand that compared to the tender corn tortillas you could find almost anywhere there. On my next trip to Mexico City I took her advice and brought home a stack of tortillas, individually wrapped them in plastic wrap, and froze them to use as needed. It felt a little silly and wan't the most elegant solution, but I had a stockpile of amazing tortillas that summer. - Ana Sofia Pelaez
Sal de Gusano from Mexico
"Ewww," says my four-year-old daughter as she turns the package of sal de gusano around in her hand, pulling the small plastic bag closer to her face after I explain that gusano means worms. "Worm salt?" she asks. "But I don't see any worms," she says, inspecting the bag carefully.
My family is accustomed to me bringing home edible souvenirs, but sal de gusano may be the oddest yet... for a four-year-old, at least. The salt, made in Oaxaca, Mexico, is a simple preparation: fine sea salt, chile costeño, and worms from the agave plant that have been toasted and ground. The result? A bold-colored salt with just the slightest hint of meaty, smoky flavor, perfect for practically anything, but particularly good for rimming a glass just waiting to be filled with that other Mexican must-have: tequila. - Julie Schwietert Collazo