Lately I've found myself bringing back more and more candy home on my trips abroad. It packs well, it's easy to find and makes a great gift. As an added bonus every time I find a candy that I've found before (either domestically or abroad) I remember another time and another place fondly.
Oddly enough I don't have a particularly sweet tooth though I do like the occasional piece of candy. One of my hobbies happens to be confectionery so I think that might have something to do with my interest in candy from foreign lands. It's something that is just universal and all over the world candy is something that you can get relatively easily. Even if the flavors aren't exactly familiar the main point still gets across...most of the time.
I think that the accessibility of candy is one of the main appealing factors for me. I can find candy at grocery stores, corner markets, airports, gas stations and even vending machines. I am quite fond of vending machines and I quite enjoy them for various reasons which as my loyal readers will remember I explored in Vending Machine Love.
Many countries have a candy that they are especially known for, chocolate in Switzerland and salted licorice in Finland for example. I try to seek out what the locals know and love. This has had the strange effect of making me quite fond of salted black licorice (Salt Sild, pictured above) which is as it turns out, an acquired taste). Of course there are some things that I just don't get used to such as the slightly banana flavored chewy confection in the shape of a Monopoly car that is a native of Sweden (Biler, pictured above).
I have noticed that while hazelnuts aren't that popular here in the States, they are quite fond of them in Europe. People really go for them in chocolate bars as a peanut substitute. I don't know why we don't use as many hazelnuts here but it is a sad deficiency that we face and somehow don't notice.
Of course we have plenty of candy here in the United States and over all candy is still candy but there is something about the novelty and rarity of things that we can't easily find that unwraps something inside us. I've noticed that the child like wonder and lust comes back when tempted with what I'll call a rare sweet. Candy becomes new again and curiosity gets the best of people; it's wonderful. A bit of chocolate in the shape of an egg is just a bit of OK chocolate but put a plastic toy inside (Kinder Surprise) and even the most serious of adults are transfixed, if only for a brief moment.
I've never had any problems bringing wrapped candy to or from another country, it's not a blip on the radar for customs people and I appreciate that. When visiting abroad I've even started to bring some candy bars that aren't generally available abroad along with me to complete the cultural exchange of sweets. Just as we have specialty candy shops that carry foreign candies, stores like that exist abroad however the prices are highly inflated ($5 for a standard sized Hershey bar for example). Unfortunately the candy doesn't move quickly in these shops so it can be a bit stale which is a shame given the cost of imported candies.
In my cultural exchange of sweets I've found that candies that are easy to share tend to work out well such as Whoppers and Junior Mints. This makes it easy for someone to try something new without committing to eating a whole candy bar.
Even though I find a lot of my candy abroad please don't think that you'll be left out of the fun if you don't get to travel often. Domestically there are regional candies that you'll find if you take the time to look while traveling such as Idaho spuds which are only available in a handful of states. Closer to home there are still plenty of places to find unusual treats. Your local grocery store most likely has an ethnic food section, here you'll find a small selection of candies from around the world. Unfortunately they'll be overpriced and will most likely be on the stale side.
A better bet will be your local ethnic grocery store. These will cater to a more specific group and the stock tends to be a lot fresher than a run of the mill grocery store. You may not find a broad range of candy (as you might find in a specialty candy store) but the prices are generally very reasonable and you'll get a chance to explore a new grocery store which is something that I am always keen to do.
One final source I'll mention is Cost Plus World Market. The prices here tend to be more on the expensive side and the stock can be a tad stale but they'll have things that I haven't found anyplace else domestically. They tend to specialize in sweets from the UK and Australia such as Jelly Babies (a cross between gummy candies and jelly beans) and Eating Licorice (soft licorice for eating). While they do have Jelly Babies they aren't popular at my local store so they are always stale, the licorice is pretty good there though. Cost plus even has the dangerously good Lakerol from Sweden. Lakorol is a sugar free mentholated pastille that comes in various flavors ranging from sweet licorice to cactus (they are all good though the one called salvi took a while to get used to).
Even though I might pay a little more for these rare sweets they are a special treat and they remind me of experiences that I've had in far off places, long ago. Every time I find Australian licorice at a store I recall stopping in at a candy shop in a mall in Brisbane after being lured in by big glass jars full of different colors of licorice, it was a good day. When you factor in the recollection of fond memories then spending $2-3 on a candy bar is a bargain when counterbalanced by the cost of travel now a days.
The next time you see a strange candy I would invite you to take a chance and try it because you just might find a new favorite. If you do, please come back and comment about your experience. Please let me know about some of your favorite non domestic candies and I'll keep an eye out for them in the future.
If you'd like to read further on the topic of candy I can highly recommend Candy Addict for reviews on candy, both foreign and domestic.
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Coming Soon: Queue Madness or Why I Hate Standing in Lines