My Favorite Reusable Souvenirs from Italy

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?

Moka Pot

Moka pots || creative commons photo by Maggie

Moka pots || creative commons photo by Maggie

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.”


My own beat-up dosacaffè || photo by Jessica Spiegel, all rights reserved

My own beat-up dosacaffè || photo by Jessica Spiegel, all rights reserved

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.

Table Linens & Kitchen Towels

Some of my well-loved & faded Cinque Terre towels || photo by Jessica Spiegel, all rights reserved

Some of my well-loved & faded Cinque Terre towels || photo by Jessica Spiegel, all rights reserved

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.

Nutella Jars

Nutella jars, including the small glass, third option from left || creative commons photo by Thomas Kohler

Nutella jars, including the small glass, third option from left || creative commons photo by Thomas Kohler

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.

Other Excellent Italian Souvenir Ideas

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.

  • canned tuna – Trust me, canned tuna in Italy is something of a delicacy. Get the stuff packed in oil and see if you can resist eating it straight outta the can.
  • dried mushrooms – Personally, I’m not a mushroom person, but if you are, I’m told there are seriously high-quality dried mushrooms you can get in Italy that are much less expensive than their equivalent in the U.S.
  • olive oil and vinegar dispensers – My mother found a delicate and beautiful set of glass oil and vinegar bottles, with elegant spouts and stoppers, at a tiny shop in Radda in Chianti. She’d been eyeing them at every restaurant we went to, and finally found some to buy. She still loves them. You can also find terra cotta ones, too, that are less fragile.
  • espresso cups and saucers and spoons – Yeah, you can get these anywhere these days, but it’s fun to bring them back from Italy. I especially love the tiny espresso spoons that make me feel like I’m five years old and playing at having tea.
  • olive wood salad tongs – These are available just about everywhere, thanks to the abundance of olive trees.

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.

  • glass wine stoppers in Murano – Okay, it’s sort of kitchen-related, but not really. Murano glass is extraordinary, and can be quite expensive. Getting a small wine bottle stopper makes Murano glass a more affordable luxury.
  • lace in Burano – If you’re into doilies, Burano is the place to get them. Just be sure you’re getting the real handmade stuff and not some cheap Chinese knockoff.
  • Florentine paper – Yes, some people still write letters on real paper. If you’re one of them, treat yourself to a beautiful stationary set with the swirling colorful designs Florence is known for.
  • leather gloves in Milan – I love that there are entire shops in Milan that sell nothing but leather gloves. If you’re in the market for a pair of gloves, do yourself a favor and visit one of these stores.
  • leather purses or belts or wallets in Florence – The outdoor leather markets in Florence are great if you need (or just want) a new purse or some other leather item. One of my favorite things to do in these markets is to get a purse in whatever color seems to be the hot fashionable shade that season – you’ll know, because you’ll have been seeing it in every shop window and on every fashionable Italian.

4 responses to “My Favorite Reusable Souvenirs from Italy”

  1. Suzie Provo says:

    Great post! Just went down the street to my local Cosi Cosi store here in Firenze and asked IN ITALIAN if they sold DosaCaffés. Bought a lovely stainless one and will try it out with my morning Moka domani! Not only am I happy to have it, I am happy to have tried to ask for it in Italian????

    • Jessica says:

      Omigoodness, that’s fantastic! I can’t wait to hear what you think. It’s just such a perfect little gadget.

      I’m not familiar with Cosi Cosi stores… Are they department stores? Grocery stores? Hardware? I’d love to be able to tell folks another type of shop to look for other than the “casalinga” store my friend pointed out to me in Milan. 🙂

  2. Alicia Staz says:

    Thank you so much for reminding me I wanted to get a Moka pot! II loved using it when we were in Italy and just ordered it on Amazon. I also brought home a cute Nutella jar decorated for expo. I’m going to have my wine in it tonight! Super idea!

    • Jessica says:

      Double yay! Moka pots make lovely stovetop decor, too, even when not in use. And I’m glad you’ve already got a Nutella jar to use for a drinking glass!

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