You Don’t Have to Schlep It Home

Importers Make a Wide Array of Foreign Foods Available

By Jonathan Spira on 8 October 2014
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In the critically-acclaimed movie “Good Bye, Lenin!,” Alex Kerner and his sister, who live in what was East Berlin, go to extraordinary lengths to obtain hard-to-find foods from the former East Germany to avoid a shock to their mother’s system.

In a similar vein, globetrotting travelers love to bring home the foods they discover, although they run into different logistical constraints such as available luggage space and Department of Agriculture bans, relaxed considerably in 2013, on certain foodstuffs such as cured meat products. This ban was amusingly depicted in the 1971 film “Lady Liberty,” where Sophia Loren’s character was detained at John F. Kennedy Airport for attempting to bring in a mortadella.

Fortunately, more and more “foreign” foods are being imported into the United States, making such schlepping unnecessary.

While some food items sold in the United States – notably Nutella and Fanta – differ from their counterparts sold elsewhere, many items are the same exact products that are sold in local supermarkets in places ranging from Munich to Tokyo to Vienna.

Foreign foods have always been considered desirable and the grass is apparently always greener from the other side. I recall seeing Heinz ketchup bottles on display in Harrods when I was a teenager, wondering why they were accorded so much attention (and were so expensive) for just bottles of plain old ketchup.

On the other hand, as a former resident of Munich and Vienna, I carried home dozens of items with me that I can now find at the local supermarket.

A few examples of my favorites are Manner wafer cookies, Bahlsen cookies, Langnese honey, and Zeisner curry ketchup.

Manner is the big thing for me. The Manner line comes from an Austrian firm, Josef Manner & Comp, founded in 1890. The company’s products are wide ranging and include a variety of wafer cookies, chocolates, sweets, cocoa, and seasonal products.

I’ve been enjoying Manner chocolate-covered hazelnut wafers, or Haselnuss-Mignon, since before puberty. Until recently, I would always bring several bags of them home. I stopped because I discovered several Manner products in a local supermarket in New York including their signature Neapolitan wafers, which have remained unchanged since their launch in 1898. I contacted the distributor and was surprised to learn that my beloved Haselnuss-Mignon cookies were being imported as well.

Another company, Langnese Honig (not to be confused with the Langnese ice cream company), supplies the honey I would always purchase when I lived in Munich.

Yet another treat is curry ketchup, a spiced version of standard ketchup that’s quite common in Germany. It’s the basis of Currywurst, one of my favorite street foods, sausage served with curry ketchup with curry powder on top. It goes well with French fries and my preferred brand is Zeisner.

Bahlsen is a German brand with significant presence and mindshare in the United States making it easier to find, although some of the cakes sold in Germany are rare in the United States. As a result, I’ve enjoyed Bahlsen items, including chocolate-covered Waffletten and Vanilla Kipferl, both in the United States and abroad since childhood.

Importers such as European-American brands and web retailers such as are excellent sources for these items, in case your local supermarket doesn’t (yet) offer them.

As for me, I have yet to convince Markus Wieser, the company that produces the absolute best apricot marmalade and liqueur, to make a big push in the United States. For the time being, I will resign myself to continue carrying their jars and bottles.
(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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