Italy Roundtable: 8 of My Favorite Italy Gifts
This marks the 7th month for the Italy Blogging Roundtable, and the topic we chose for the month is GIFTS. In past years around this time, I’ve posted a long list of Italy gift ideas as well as some places to go gift shopping in Italy – so this year I thought I’d highlight my very favorite Italy gift items. These are almost all things I’ve bought for myself, and have in some cases begged Italian friends to send to me (yes, really).
In some cases you can get them outside Italy – but often the product you buy outside Italy differs in quality from the one you get inside Italy. The other reason it’s good to shop for these items when you’re actually in Italy is that many of them require hunting. You’ll need to browse the aisles of an Italian grocery store, an outdoor market, and even perhaps an Italian hardware store to find some of these things – and those kinds of quests when you’re traveling almost always make for great stories.
>> Learn more about shopping in Italy
What’s your favorite totally Italian thing to bring home from Italy?
8 Extremely Italian Gifts You Might Not Otherwise Think to Buy
I’m starting with coffee, just as I start every morning – and I make mine in a 3-cup Bialetti Mokapot. The “3” in the size refers to espresso-size cups, so my 3-cup Mokapot gives me roughly half an American-size mug of coffee (which is perfect for me – I fill the rest of the cup with heated milk). While most Italians will get their morning coffee at a bar en route to work, the coffee-making device they have at home isn’t likely to be an espresso machine – it’s likely to be a Mokapot (or, probably, a few of them). Outside Italy you can find Bialetti at nicer grocery or kitchen supply stores or online, and in Italy you can find knock-offs in most grocery stores and outdoor markets. The knock-offs are ridiculously cheap (espcially if you just get a 1-cup size, which are kind of adorable), but they’re not as well made. If the person you’re buying for is going to use their Mokapot often, I’d go for the sturdier Bialetti brand.
>> Here’s a 3-cup Bialetti on Amazon
The name “Pocket Coffee” is enough to get the attention of any coffee lover – and the candies themselves are a treat to which you can quickly become addicted. Because these chocolate-covered liquid espresso shots melt in Italy’s hot and humid summers, you’ll only find them on store shelves in the winter (when they appear and disappear changes every year depending entirely on the weather) – which means most visitors who only go to Italy in the summer have never even seen Pocket Coffee, let alone tried it. You can get it on Amazon now, which is great, but if you’re in Italy during not-hot weather be sure to swing into a grocery store or tabaccaio to see if they’ve got Pocket Coffee on the shelves with the candies. I was thrilled to discover last year it even comes in 32-count boxes…
>> Here’s an 18-count box of Pocket Coffee on Amazon
Yep, more coffee-related stuff. This is a gadget to go with the Bialetti Mokapot you’re buying for that lucky coffee addict on your shopping list – it’s a canister that stores ground coffee in a way that doesn’t expose it to air, and it’s also a dispenser that keeps you from spilling coffee grounds all over the place when you’re filling your Mokapot. It’s a genius little device. I found mine at a closet-sized “casalinga” store in Milan – one of those places that sells everything from light bulbs to brooms to coffee dispensers. You might have to do a bit of hunting for this one, but it’s worth it.
>> I’ve never seen a dosacaffe on Amazon, but this company makes and sells them outside Italy
No, I’m not kidding. The canned tuna on Italian store shelves – the stuff that’s packed in oil – is phenomenal. You don’t know what you’re missing until you try this stuff. Crack open a can and dig in. You’ll want to bring home plenty for yourself in addition to anything you buy for other people. Keep in mind, travelers, that this is a liquid thing – it’ll have to go in your checked luggage rather than carry-on, or you can ship it instead.
>> While it’s way cheaper to buy these in Italy, if you’re not there you can get imported Italian canned tuna on Amazon
When I first started traveling in Europe, Nutella was still almost impossible to find in the US. Now, it’s everywhere – and yet it’s not. The stuff we get in the US isn’t made in Italy, and the stuff that’s made in Italy really does taste different. As a bonus, in Italy you can buy smaller glass containers of Nutella that (when you’re done with the contents) double as drinking glasses. I have a pair of Pink Panther – or Pantera Rosa, as they say – glasses in my own cupboard.
>> Here’s some imported Nutella in a small glass jar on Amazon
Even people who aren’t fashionistas often feel compelled to buy some kind of clothing item in Italy, the land of the unfailingly well-dressed. One thing you might not think to bring home, however, is a pair of glasses. Don’t worry about getting a prescription, you can buy any pair of frames and get your prescription put in when you get home. The Italians have an incredible flair for style with even their glasses – look around in any Italian crowd and you’ll see what I mean – and if you (or your gift recipient) wear glasses it’s an extremely fun way to show off your own Italian style.
>> You can find imported Italian designer eyeglass frames outside Italy, and of course they’re not cheap – the lesser-known shops won’t be found outside Italy, so get these while you’re in Italy
This is one for the language learners out there. Stop by just about any newsstand (edicola) in Italy and you’re bound to find a display of Italian comic books. If the person for whom you’re shopping is trying to learn Italian, it’s a fun and graphic way to test one’s reading skills. The language isn’t exactly “Dick and Jane” level easy – Italian comic books can be challenging – but they can also make the learning easier thanks to pictures helping the reader understand context or learn new slang words. Another language learning gift that I like are board games like the Italian version Scrabble (yes, the letter tiles are different!).
>> These are harder to find outside Italy than you might expect; if you’ve got a good used bookstore nearby with a good foreign section, you can sometimes get lucky with a discarded Italian comic book – otherwise, be sure to put these on your list to pick up when you’re actually in Italy
If you’re visiting Florence, try to find a stationery store to see the range of products available that showcase the singularly beautiful Florentine paper making traditions. The ornate and colorful designs are hard to resist, but it’s also hard to think of anyone who actually writes letters on good old-fashioned paper anymore. This is why it’s important to go into a shop and see what they use the paper for – I’ve brought home lovely picture frames and journals made with Florentine paper, so I get to enjoy the beauty of it on something I’m actually going to use. Alternately, you can also get Florentine paper gift bags to hold all the other goodies you’re giving away.
>> There are all kinds of products on Amazon using Florentine paper, including wrapping paper, stationery, napkins, and journals
Other Voices from the Italy Blogging Roundtable
What GIFTS did the other members of the Italy Blogging Roundtable talk about? Find out by clicking on their links below.
- ArtTrav – Top 5 Christmas gift ideas from Renaissance Florence
- At Home in Tuscany – The Gifts of Life
- Brigolante – The Blogging Gift
- Italofile – Give the Gift of Italian Culture
What are other bloggers saying about the GIFTS theme this month?
At the beginning of December, we asked other bloggers to participate in the Italy Blogging Roundtable, too, by writing about what the prompt this month – GIFTS – meant to them. Here are some of my favorites:
- The Puglia Blog put together an actual gift basket representing Puglia – and it looks like a lovely gift to recieve.
- Bell’Aventura wrote about the many gifts (mostly food!) that she gets from her neighbors and others in her community.
- Sometimes the best gifts are unexpected discoveries on church floors, as A Sense of Place found out in Rome.
- Another food-related post, Le Marche Photo Blog posted an image of the “forgotten fruit” of the region, which are making their way back to markets.
- Little Paradiso’s post got me all choked up, so have a tissue handy – she talks of retrieving the safety deposit box at her Cinque Terre bank after the recent floods.
Italy Blogging Roundtable Archives:
photos: Mokapots by Maggie Hoffman, canned tuna by Like_the_Grand_Canyon, Nutella jars by mueritz (annotated by me), edicola by Luigi Rosa