I tend to collect experiences and memories over actual things when I travel, but that doesn’t mean I never buy souvenirs. Some of my favorite souvenirs from Italy (and elsewhere) are things I can use over and over again, so that I’m reminded of my trips many years later when I’m doing something simple – like unloading the dishwasher.
Here are some of my very favorite useful souvenirs I’ve purchased in Italy, along with a few other suggestions for Italian souvenirs you might not ordinarily think of bringing home.
What are your favorite reusable souvenirs?
I love my moka pots. The first one I bought was a “three-cup” Bialetti that I purchased at a store in the U.S. after my first Italy trip. (I put “three-cup” in quotes because it’s the Italian espresso-sized cups they’re talking about, which means even the “three-cup” moka pot produces about a half of an American-sized mug of coffee.)
On a later trip, when I rented an apartment, I got so used to making my morning coffee in a little one-cup moka pot that I bought one at the corner supermarket before I came home. It was an off-brand, not nearly as well-made as the Bialetti, but years later it still works just as well as it did when it was brand new.
Where to buy in Italy: You can find Bialetti moka pots in fancy department stores (and sometimes even stand-alone Bialetti shops, which are fun to browse in), including limited editions and special colored moka pots, but the generic moka pots are just about everywhere you turn – including supermarkets and outdoor food markets. They come in lots of sizes; the smallest ones are the one-cup pots, and they’re absolutely adorable. In my experience, it takes something closer to the “nine-cup” pot to actually fill an American-sized coffee mug in one brewing. The generic one-cup pots usually only cost a few euro, especially at an outdoor market. There are a zillion of them on Amazon, called “stovetop espresso pots.”
This is one of those “only the Italians would come up with that gadget” things. Yes, of course, you could store your coffee in any old container and scoop the grounds into your moka pot basket with a spoon, but once you use a dosacaffè you’ll never use anything else.
The idea of a dosacaffè is simple – the canister holds the coffee grounds in an airtight container that you never need to open except to fill it, and the dispenser at the bottom releases just the right amount of coffee grounds without exposing any of the rest of the contents of the container to air or light. The word basically breaks down to “coffee doser,” and they have similar devices for sugar (dosazucchero), too.
At best, it helps keep coffee grounds from ending up all over the counter (or floor) when you’re still half-awake because you haven’t had coffee yet. At worst, it’s just an ingenious daily reminder of your trip to Italy.
Where to buy in Italy: I got mine in what a friend described to me as a “casalinga” store (the word means “housewife”). It was only slightly bigger than a closet, and the shelves were crammed floor to ceiling with all manner of hardware, pots and pans, and other sundry household items. I had to ask the woman behind the counter for the dosacaffè, because I couldn’t see it, but she had ’em. It was ages ago, but I think it set me back less than ten euro. You can find dosacaffè on Amazon sometimes, and sometimes on other sites, too, if you’re not up for hunting down a “casalinga” shop.
My favorite thing about buying table linens (tablecloths and, more often, cloth napkins) or kitchen towels is that they can’t break in your luggage when you cram everything in at the end of your trip. Well, maybe that’s my second-favorite thing. My favorite thing is thinking about where I bought them every time I set the table or dry the dishes.
Where to buy in Italy: You can venture into department stores, but those won’t always have locally-made linens. Sometimes the outdoor markets are good places to check, although these are also not necessarily going to be selling locally-made stuff. (Of course, that may not matter to you. You may just like to have visual reminders of your trip, no matter where they were made. And that’s cool, too.) I have dish towels purchased at a market in Corniglia that each have a Cinque Terre ingredient on them (complete with Italian names) and a recipe that uses said ingredient. I also have napkins purchased at a somewhat tourist-centric shop in the Dolomites. You sort of never know where you’re going to find linens, but be on the lookout. They make great gifts, too.
One of my former Italian teachers (born and raised in Venice) swears that Nutella in Italy tastes infinitely better than the stuff we get in the U.S. I’m not necessarily disagreeing with her, although I like the stuff we get here just fine. What I love about the Nutella in Italy, however, and the reason I still buy it when I’m there, is the container.
The Nutella section in an Italian grocery store typically offers a variety of options, with lots of different jar sizes and shapes. Some are like the plastic ones we see on the shelves of American markets. The ones I bring home are smaller and made of glass. The designs change – they’re often promoting some movie or TV show, sometimes emblazoned with characters I don’t always recognize (mine are the Pink Panther, or “Pantera Rosa”) – but the shape and size is consistent. They come with plastic lids that I eventually get rid of (when the Nutella is gone, obviously), and the glass is then – voila! – the perfect drinking glass.
Confession: I use mine for cocktails. Pantera Rosa glasses, intended for kids, except I’ve put a boulevardier inside. It makes me smile every time.
Where to buy in Italy: Just about any grocery store will do. You need one with a few options in the Nutella aisle, not just the standard size and shape. And hey, if you’re renting apartments or picnicking as you travel, you’ll be able to eat your way through the Nutella before you pack the clean glasses to bring home.
Here are a few other kitchen-related Italy souvenirs you might want to bring home, including some items that make excellent gifts if you’re so inclined.
As you can tell, I’m a sucker for useful kitchen items when it comes to souvenirs. There’s something wonderful about how you’re momentarily transported while you’re doing the dishes simply by drying your hands on that towel you bought from the nice lady at the market in Siena. Not all of my Italy goodies are in my kitchen, however, so here are a few other suggestions non-kitchen Italy souvenirs.