(Collaborative Post) Kitchen Treasures: Favorite culinary souvenirs

Published on: February 22, 2015 | Last Updated on April 1, 2016
Flour sack towel
Mi Molinillo from Huatulco to mix hot chocolate

My Molinillo from Huatulco to Mix Hot Chocolate

If you are a food lover, you are likely to pick up culinary souvenirs during your travels.

The consumables have expiration dates—like my block of aromatic chocolate from Oaxaca; tin of goose liver from Budapest; jar of parmigiano reggiano “crema” with white truffles from Bologna; and bag of Geechie Boy Yellow Grits from Charleston. But other souvenirs have joined the ranks as permanent members of my pantry.

One of the many joys of traveling is finding new foods, recipes, tools and techniques to incorporate into your cooking repertoire at home. Some are useful; others are decorative. Almost like photographs, they allow travelers to re-experience tastes and sensations that remind them of special places they’ve visited.

Some of my personal favorites include the rice scoop I purchased at a market near the port of Coquimbo, Chile. Carved by hand out of wood, it scoops out the perfect portion each and every time, leaving a pretty impression in the middle of the rice on your plate. It has a long wooden handle, which you can’t see in this photo.

Wooden Rice Scoop

Wooden Rice Scoop

Another is the tin santo of San Pascual, the patron of kitchens, that I purchased at the Santa Fe School of Cooking in New Mexico. It hangs on one of the walls of my kitchen, making me feel like the patron saint of sheep, shepherds, cooks and kitchens is looking over us.

San Pascual tinto

Tin San Pascual

It’s hard to resist buying “just one more” of the flour sack dish towels that appear in virtually every gift shop and cooking store. The originals have a history: These towels were once were made from salvaged fabric from flour or grain sacks that was bleached, washed and trimmed. Now the towels are made to look like the originals but they’re still soft, light and easy to pack. They also make great gifts. I usually opt for the ones with designs reminiscent of the destination; this one came from the Charleston Tea Plantation but I have others from Provence.

Flour sack towel

Flour sack towel

My Framed DIsh Towel from Greve in Chianti

My Framed Dish Towel from Greve in Chianti

Blogger and Journalist Naomi Tomky ( recently wrote a terrific article entitled, Take it With You: The Best Culinary Souvenirs on SeriousEats (one of my favorite culinary sites for travelers and food lovers) that inspired this post. Passionate about eating and traveling, Tomky wrote about one of her favorite culinary souvenirs, a green mug:

Three years after the trip, the mug’s Provençal colors still remind me of market where I bought it, of nibbling charcuterie and wonderfully gooey cheese on the cobblestone plaza facing the vegetable stalls, drinking carafes of rosé at a tiny bistro table as we browsed our purchases. I use the mug nearly daily—it’s wonderfully comfortable to hold, and the thick walls help keep my coffee warm as I daydream.

She also laid out her advice about which culinary souvenirs are worthwhile and which might be better to avoid.

But when it comes down to it, splurging on any souvenir–culinary or something else–is so personal.

I asked several other boomer bloggers about their personal favorites in terms of culinary souvenirs:

Susan Manlin Katzman, Sweet Leisure

I always bring home recipes as souvenirs (many landing in my blog) but also bring home cookware and  serving dishes. It’s hard to pick favorites as each is evocative of a special time and a culinary delight. Guess if I had to choose two, one would be a Pilivite ceramic game terrine with a mallard duck head, that I bought on my first trip to France. It’s probably an antique by now. I’ve stopped using the dish for cooking as I’m afraid it will break, but do keep it on a pantry shelf with more utilitarian  cookware.
Pilivite ceramic game terrine with a mallard duck head

Pilivite Ceramic Game Terrine with a Mallard Duck Head

The other is a pig-shaped porcelain pitcher made in Italy, and so very Italian in spirit. I bought it many years ago and kept it filled with flowers in a kitchen window for a long time.  Now it’s on a kitchen book shelf, adding fun to a row of vintage cookbooks. It always makes me smile—as does thoughts of Italy.

Italian Pig-Shaped Porcelain Pitcher

Italian Pig-Shaped Porcelain Pitcher

Carole Terwilliger Meyers, Travels with Carole and Berkeley and Beyond 

I adore my lion-head nutcracker. I bought it in England at an antiques market. Unfortunately, I mourn the fact that I passed up a similar, much older one but did grab this one when I realized my mistake! In fact, this nutcracker has started me on a tiny collection of them.

Lion's Head Nutcracker

Lion’s Head Nutcracker


Michelle da Silva Richmond, The Restless Voyager and Cancun

When I was a child, my grandmother – who was from Quebec – would use this “ancient gadget” to bake potatoes on top of the stove. She told me that she had brought it from Canada. She’d place this “flat iron” on the open fire and occasionally flip it over, producing the best-tasting potatoes I’ve ever had. I’ve never been able to duplicate them – and I’ve never seen another contraption like it.

Ancient Potato Baker

Ancient Potato Baker


Donna Meyer, Nomadwomen – For Experienced Women Who Travel

While wandering through a small Parisian supermarket, I was delighted to discover yoghurt sold in small ceramic pots. The peach came in orange pots, blueberry in blue. The yoghurt was delicious, then I washed them and wrapped them in a sweater. The ceramic must be low-fired clay because it’s brittle. The blue ones didn’t make it. But this orange pair now happily sits amid a rainbow of other colors on the shelf of my Mexican kitchen, looking right at home.
Yoghurt Pots

Yoghurt Pots


Juergen Klein, dare2go

We are not Americans, but travelled extensively in the USA in 2006. Among many other places, we visited the Amish country in Pennsylvania. In Intercourse (that’s really the name of the town) we found this warren of a householdgoods shop selling all sorts of amazing kitchen gadgets; for us an opportunity to combine two things, get a few things we found useful for our camper kitchen (Remember: Amish don’t use technology and not many electrically powered tools = perfect items to use in an RV where you don’t have much electricity either) and get close to the Amish without being conspicuous. We really enjoyed this. And the most cherished kitchen knife we own came exactly from there. It has a nice thin blade, perfect for vegetables and onions, remains nice and sharp, and it can be re-sharpened really easily on the bottom of a china cup or plate (the unglazed rim). It has been with us since 2006, travelled all the way to South Patagonia, then through Europe and Turkey to Australia, remained our favorite knife there and came with us for the second trip through South America.

Pretty amazing for a simple kitchen knife.

Amish Knife

Amish Knife

Suzanne Fluhr, Boomeresque

After the epic purge of possessions accompanying our major empty nester home downsize when we moved from our house in the suburbs to a rental apartment in Center City Philadelphia, we realized that, going forward, the only things we can reasonably acquire on our travels — are refrigerator magnets.Our magnets are attached geographically—Europe and Asia on the left—Africa and the Americas on the right. Thanks to these tiny mementos, I am reminded of my favorite trips on a daily basis.
Refrigerator Magnets - Europe

Refrigerator Magnets – Europe on the Left

Have you collected any kitchen treasures on your travels?

This post is part of a linkup with Noel Morata’s Travel Photo Discovery.

  • Reply
    Donna Meyer
    February 22, 2015 at 11:06 pm

    Lovely post. Thanks for including me. I can see that I am going to be looking for more kitchen souvenirs on my next couple of trips… to Boston in March and to Europe in April. Who knows what I will bring home?

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      February 22, 2015 at 11:30 pm

      Does make you lust after more, doesn’t it? 🙂 Thanks for your contribution.

  • Reply
    Donna Janke
    February 22, 2015 at 11:14 pm

    Great collection of kitchen travel souvenirs. I don’t collect a lot of things on my travels anymore, but I’d say the favourite kitchen item I’ve even brought back from my travels was a pottery pitcher.

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      February 22, 2015 at 11:31 pm

      It seems like we can always find a place for something new in the kitchen!

  • Reply
    Susan Moore
    February 22, 2015 at 11:49 pm

    What wonderful souvenirs – great reminders of journeys past. I visited Huatulco but I don’t remember seeing molinillo – I must find one on my next trip to Mexico!

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      February 22, 2015 at 11:50 pm

      I’m sure you’ll see it next time:-) — because you’ll look!

  • Reply
    Paula McInerney
    February 23, 2015 at 1:00 am

    What an eclectic and great collection. I have to stop myself from buying kitchen things; but I do love them

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      February 23, 2015 at 8:41 am

      Yes, I understand what Suzanne means about reaching the kitchen magnet stage of life.:-)

  • Reply
    February 23, 2015 at 1:41 am

    What a great collection, and ideas for future mementos. We were admiring a tablecloth at a restaurant in Istanbul, and asked our waiter if he knew where we could purchase one like it. He came back with one from the restaurant for us as a gift! It has a couple holes in it from the hookah pipes, but that just makes it more unique, and it now sits on our dining room table.

  • Reply
    February 23, 2015 at 7:48 am

    I would love a wooden rice scoop like that…since rice is often part of our meal! I just love going through kitchen stores and booths. But, since we are still in an RV, there isn’t a lot of space, I can’t buy much except those we consume. I promise…when we are in a home again…I will collect gems like these!

  • Reply
    Michelle da Silva Richmond
    February 23, 2015 at 7:58 am

    What a great idea for an article! Thanks so much for including me.

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      February 23, 2015 at 8:40 am

      Thanks for participating! I remember a potato baker like that from my childhood, too!

  • Reply
    Linda ~ Journey Jottings
    February 23, 2015 at 8:26 am

    And the wonderful thing about kitchen souvenirs is they’re so practical –
    I love bringing home something that not only reminds me of a place, but that I can also use 🙂

  • Reply
    Susan Manlin Katzman
    February 23, 2015 at 10:44 am

    Loved this post–wonderful concept. Thanks for including me.

  • Reply
    February 23, 2015 at 10:46 am

    What a fun collection of culinary travel reminders. We usually bring home short-time culinary reminders- food and drink, though I have acquired a few more long-term items. I used to collect antique kitchen stuff and would pick things up in our travels.

  • Reply
    Carole Terwilliger Meyers
    February 23, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    I love that pig pitcher! I have several chicken ones, also from Italy.

  • Reply
    February 23, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    Great pictures. Yes, these are great travel souvenirs. Love them all especially the one with the china tea cups. Afternoon tea in the Ritz, anyone? Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru
    February 23, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    We’re beyond acquiring physical souvenirs at this point, what with one suitcase each worth of possessions, but I loved this post. Pete travels with a kitchen kit: his favorite spices in covered containers, a silicone brush, measuring cup and spoons, packets of this and that, and a grater (of all things). All neatly packed in a mid-size tupperware container. Makes it easy to set up shop in a new house sit or Airbnb.

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      February 23, 2015 at 7:43 pm

      So smart to make a “kit” of your essentials~

  • Reply
    Lyn (aka) The Travelling Lindfields
    February 24, 2015 at 12:14 am

    I have a friend who has what he laughingly describes as a ‘missionary pot’ in his front garden. It is a very large iron pot – big enough for a couple of people to fit into. The joke is that it is what missionaries used to be cooked in. It looks exactly like the pots you see in cartoons. I’m not sure if that qualifies as a ‘kitchen souvenir’ but it is the source of great amusement amongst his neighbours. And before curiosity gets too much for you he discovered a few years ago that it is in fact a whale blubber pot once used by whalers to melt down whale meat.

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      February 24, 2015 at 7:29 am

      Hope he was on a road trip when he made the acquisition:-)

  • Reply
    February 24, 2015 at 12:25 am

    All colorful but I’ve never seen a baked potato contraption like that, it’s very cool and a nice conversation piece I’m sure!

  • Reply
    February 24, 2015 at 12:36 am

    Fun post! I love picking up kitchen utensils– unusual spatulas, pretty wooden spoons. Also picked up some hefty French kitchen towels and vegetable sponges.

  • Reply
    budget jan
    February 24, 2015 at 1:23 am

    I once bought several vegetable peelers in Vietnam for $1 total and they were fantastic. Mostly I collect bowls and tablecoths. I love using them at home. My favourite souvenirs were two fishermen caps knitted from greasy wool which I bought in Essaouria Morocco. I had no idea what I could use them for as I live in the tropics but they are great for storing tomatoes and onions in. I keep them in the fridge and the caps are flexible and don’t take up much space. I just love them. Keep on collecting. 🙂

  • Reply
    February 24, 2015 at 11:14 am

    I LOVE the kitchen towels and the rice scoop! I have a really neat apron and some beer steins from Germany, that were a gift from our exchange student. I also have a hand painted plate and a menorah from Israel that were gifts. So, in summary, I don’t go anywhere, I just collect gifts!

  • Reply
    Yasha Langford
    February 24, 2015 at 3:27 pm

    All interesting things – some a teensy bit quirky…
    The ancient potato baker is interesting. I’m fairly sure we had one of those in the past and used it as a flame spreader on our gas stove – the only way to make the flame low enough for simmering things. Unfortunately I don’t remember where or when that was, but we never baked potatoes on it. Too bad we don’t still have it to try – I love baked potatoes!!!
    Thanks for including our little knife – as a late addition. It really is an essential part of our kitchen hardware – and a lovely memory of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. 🙂

  • Reply
    A Cook Not Mad (Nat)
    February 24, 2015 at 3:50 pm

    Those are all great souvenirs. We tend to pick up a lot of kitchen related souvenirs too, olive wood pasta cutters, dish towels and honey. It’s great to remember the stories related to each item.

  • Reply
    Anita @ No Particular Place To Go
    February 24, 2015 at 8:02 pm

    I love to cook and, back in the day when we had a kitchen, I used to love buying kitchen gadgets and souvenirs. So many of the items included in this post were exactly the things I would have picked as mementos but I think the one that really captures my fancy is Michelle Richmond’s antique potato cooking “flat iron.”

  • Reply
    The GypsyNesters
    February 24, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    Love the Italian pig! These days we don’t have much room for souvenirs, but we often find little things in our travels and send them to our kids. Other than that, we treasure memories.

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      February 25, 2015 at 9:13 am

      When we recently traveled South, we found that many of the barbecue joints along the way were filled with pigs! Guess they were locals:-)

  • Reply
    Sue Reddel
    February 25, 2015 at 9:56 pm

    Great post! We’ve picked up so many treasures on our travels. My favorites are my magnet collection which has now gone onto a second refrigerator!

  • Reply
    Lisa Chavis
    February 26, 2015 at 9:49 am

    What a novel and cute idea! I love the idea of functional souvenirs – now every time you use it in the kitchen, you’ll remember the fun (and the stories) from the travel.

  • Reply
    Suzanne Fluhr
    February 26, 2015 at 6:49 pm

    Looking at everyone else’s souvenirs, I’m a little abashed to have contributed our refrigerator magnets to this collection. Plus, ever since we’ve limited ourselves to acquiring refrigerator magnets abroad, we’ve gotten a few raised eyebrow “Really?” reactions from customs officers while looking at our declaration form.

  • Reply
    alison abbott
    February 28, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    I’m all for any trinket that will bring back memories of travel, especially one that gets a lot of use. I somehow managed to bring a tajine pot back from Morocco that arrived in one piece and I love cooking with it. These days I’m more apt to bring back artwork, as it’s easier to roll and transport. I admire Susan’s pig pitcher-what a great find!

    • Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      February 28, 2015 at 9:14 pm

      And I admire someone who can manage carrying home a tajine from Morocco! 🙂

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