May 18, 2017
Slurping freshly shucked oysters on a mist-enveloped shore. Tucking into creamy yet stinky Epoisses de Bourgogne cheese above vineyards in France. Touring a small seaside village in Hokkaido and discovering the unexpectedly sweet umami of bacon cured in pig’s blood. Experiences with food create some of our most vivid memories of trips abroad.
Food souvenirs are delicious, cheaper at the source and allow travellers to keep the experience of their trip alive. With so many delectable possibilities around, keep your eyes peeled for these seven must-buys.
In 2012, Czech couple Simona Kapoun and George Blazenec were invited to a dinner party and they brought along a homemade medovnik, a traditional Czech cake made of thick, honey-flavoured biscuits layered with caramel cream and chopped walnuts, topped with honey-flavoured crumbs.
The centuries-old recipe, tweaked to suit ingredients available locally – including raw honey from the Margaret River region – resulted in a softer, moister, richer and uniquely Australian version of the traditional cake. It was a hit and The Honeycake was born.
It now has two stores – in the basement of the State Buildings in Perth’s business district and at the Fremantle Markets – where travellers can snap up boxes to take home. The small box (A$20 or S$20.90) serves five, the large box (A$29) serves eight, and larger cakes and slabs, which cost up to A$115 for 40 servings, are available for order a few days in advance.
The cakes are made in small batches from natural, preservative-free ingredients, each layer rolled and assembled by hand. It is an ideal treat to take home as the cake improves with age – the biscuit layers soften and the flavours of honey and caramel blend and deepen.
The cake will keep for about 10 days at room temperature – longer in the fridge – and is best transported and stored in an airtight container.
The soft flesh of a ripe carabao mango from the Philippines – known as manggang kalabaw locally and sometimes called the Manila super mango – is second to none. Most of the Philippines’s mangoes come from Pangasinan province in Luzon, but for the sweetest mangoes, head to the islands of Cebu and Guimaras in the Visayas.
The Guimaras mangoes are especially sweet and locals use them in everything from smoothies to unique items such as mango ketchup and mango pizza. The fruit is in season all year round and is sold everywhere, from roadside stalls to supermarkets, where 1kg of four or five mangoes will cost 70 to 80 pesos (S$2 to S$2.25). However, ripe mangoes do not keep very long, so if you don’t have a mango-loving group of friends or family, consider buying dried mangoes instead.
There are many different brands of dried mangoes available, but Cebu Dried Mango Chips (about 60 pesos a bag), Freshco Dried Mango (about 65 pesos a bag) and the award-winning 7D brand (about 80 pesos a bag) are said to be the best. For mass purchases and lower prices, head to the 7D warehouse store (Sacris Road, A.S. Fortuna Street) in Mandaue City, on the outskirts of Cebu City. The store sells dried mango by the box as well as mango puree, mango nectar and mango jelly in easy-to-carry boxes.
Vietnam fish sauce
When in Vietnam, a top-notch fish sauce is a must-buy. Prized for the salty, umami flavour it lends to dips, soups and stir-fries, fish sauce is a staple of South-east Asian cuisine and every country in the region has its own. But for chefs and foodies the world over, Vietnamese nuoc mam – which has a lighter, smoother flavour than its well-known, saltier and more pungent Thai cousin, nam pla – is considered the best.
Varieties from Phu Quoc island in the south are particularly sought after. The island boasts ideal weather and temperatures for sauce production and its clear waters are home to ca com, a long-jawed variety of anchovy used to make the sauce. The liquid is fermented for about a year in tropical wood barrels, resulting in a delicately flavoured, well-balanced sauce.
Red Boat is the most famous brand of fish sauce from Phu Quoc, but many sauces made by smaller, family-owned labels are just as good. Travellers can buy them for $1 to $3 a bottle in supermarkets around Vietnam.
To identify a good-quality fish sauce, look at the ingredients. Nuoc mam is made from the fermentation of salt and a single type of small fish, typically anchovy, but sometimes mackerel, nothing else. There should be no preservatives or additives such as sugar. The liquid should be clear, dark amber in colour and smell of fish, but not be overly pungent. It should taste of fish, with a salty, savoury top note, a sweet finish and no bitterness.
Check the label for the sauce’s nitrogen content, shown by degrees N, which indicates the amount of protein in the sauce. The higher the N content, the better the quality. A sauce with 40 degrees or more is ideal. Some labels will indicate that the sauce is nuoc mam nhi, which means it is the first extraction of liquid from the fermented fish. Like extra virgin olive oil, this first press is the best.
This delicacy keeps for up to three years and will become lighter, sweeter and less salty the longer it sits.