Smuggling In The Goods—Things you can’t find in Italy that you should pack before you go

written by Tiana Kai
american expat in italy

I’m off to Miami in March and can’t wait to see my friends, family…and stock up on hard to find items that either don’t exist in Italy or are sold in that one world market for an arm and a leg.

Without further adieu, here’s my list on the “I better buy these things in the States and lug them back to Florence” list.

Pack for Italy

1. Cholula

Cholula hot sauce

Ven pa’cá!

Cholula may sound like a cute little fuzzy name, but do not be deceived! It’s my favorite hot sauce because it actually has a flavor. I’m that girl who orders the 3 chili pepper items on the menu, the my tongue went numb but I can’t stop eating kinda gal and the I think my taste buds rejected all that heat so they went packing and left me with a raw mouth kinda eater.

I like it hot. Spicy.

Cholula is by no means hot hot hot, but I love the taste and quite frankly peperoncino doesn’t cut it anymore.

The down side about Florence (or Italy?) is that there’s no Mexican food. You may say, oh well there’s Tijuana in Florence. To that I respond “no, that’s not Mexican food! It’s overly salted, has poor quality pork and serves canned pineapples on a plate.”

When I return, huevos rancheros for everyone! Hm, maybe I should also pack some ready made Natura’s frijoles!?

P.S. Cholula if you can hear me, I would love a case of all the flavors! 😉

2. Neti pot

sinus rinse

Ahh, nasal relief! Photo by hungry Walrus.

Ok, bare with me on this one. If Oprah did a special episode on neti pots with Dr. Oz then there is no need to be ashamed!

I’ve had allergies my whole life and one day a friend told me that his life changed after using the saline solution up his nose. I then bought one and loved it.

Now I got my husband addicted to it. That’s love— two people who can’t breathe and need to resort to salt water rinses. FYI we use our own, no sharing!

I bought two sets of the Sinus Rinse last year and for the life of me cannot find where we left them. On an airplane? In the Alps? In Viareggio? At La Nonna’s? Who knows. Now I’m sans neti pots and need more.

We’ve asked all the pharmacies in Florence and they think we’re nuts! We walk in armed with a photo of a Sinus Rinse kit on my iPad screen and each pharmacist shakes their head and offer up a weird nose spray. No, I don’t want meds, I want a simple salt water rinse!

Oh and I promise to start using distilled water from now on, since I don’t want to die that way or reenact an episode of House! It wasn’t lupus is was the neti pot!

3. Boscia’s Make-up Break-up

Bosica Makeup Remover to Pack for Italy

This is the best make-up remover I’ve ever used!

No cotton required, just warm water. It’s organic or at least has the least amount of crap that most people use on their face.

It smells great and feels amazing. Last year I bought one from Sephora (and of course they don’t sell Boscia products in Sephora shops in Italy!) and another from Birchbox and packed them with me from Miami to Florence.

I may also stock up on some nice face cream!

4. Pancake mix

Aunt Jemima Pancake mix

Nicco’s little cousins sleep over once in a while and are OBSESSED with American pancakes. Even when I see them out of the house they always ask, “Can you make me pancakes?

How can I leave them hanging like that?

I bought a box for the house last year and it’s almost gone…these rugrats want more! I also bought Aunt Jemima syrup to give them the full American affect but no one liked it, so it just sits with a full belly in a cabinet.

FYI, you can use syrup as a substitute for vanilla extract when baking!

5. Clothes

Let’s be honest, no one makes as much money in Florence as they did back in the States. I remember having a budget for much more than I do now. Luckily, I stocked up on nice clothes before I moved here even though 73% of my Miami wardrobe will never see the light of day in Italy!

I don’t shop in Florence often because the quality never meets the price tag. I tend to find high priced boutiques selling nylon or cheap cotton (no thanks). Or there’s Gucci or Chinese shops with unwearable and fake fashion. So, America here I come!

6. I leave this up to you!

What do you think I should not leave the States without? Hm, maybe coconut oil or flour?

Oh, and as much as I love peanut butter like any other good American, I won’t ever pack it due to the weight. I found Calvé peanut butter, but don’t eat it often since I prefer Smucker’s 100% all natural.

And for the ladies, depending on where you live in Italy I would recommend some female products, since not all the stores sell what you need.

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gillian mcguire February 26, 2014 at 7:31 pm

Alwys on my drugstore list is deodorant with antiperspirant and a big bottle of Motrin (a box of 10 tablets costs 5 euro here!) Save room for more clothes and make Jennifer Perillo’s all purpose baking mix instead of lugging back Aunt Jemima – easy peasy.

Tiana Kai February 26, 2014 at 7:40 pm

First off, thanks for RE entering the comment. Damn Disqus! 😉

Thanks for the tips! I think I may also bring Emergen-C. We love those…may add it above. I packed about two boxes last time I flew back to Florence.

Ah yes, deodorant, I love Mitchum, no scent. It’s one product I am very very picky about as I hate weird slimy textures (under the arms).

Helen February 26, 2014 at 8:30 pm

I used to lug back brown sugar and chocolate chips, but you can get those here now, along with a not-quite-the-same-thing maple syrup. I’m from RI and always buy Johnny Cake mix (white cornmeal doesn’t exist here). The BIG ones for me are baking powder and vanilla extract.

Tiana Kai February 26, 2014 at 8:57 pm

Thanks for the ideas, I can always use brown sugar when baking and have yet to find any in Florence. Small world, I used to spend my summers in Jamestown with my family. Feels like another lifetime ago!

Jen February 28, 2014 at 7:25 pm

Where did you find brown sugar in italy? I haven’t found it anywhere in Milan.

TAy Kai March 6, 2014 at 12:02 pm

check out Coop ! They have it for in their equosolidale line ….

Tiana Kai March 6, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Thanks, I’ll have to check that out too, since it’s been laking in my bakery cupboard!

Tay Kai March 6, 2014 at 11:42 am

Coop has brown sugar for baking. Vivi Market near the S. Lorenzo market has all that stuff … brown sugar, pancake mix peanut butter… you can get PB or almond butter at Natura Si too. I see pancake mix at the regular super markets so I dunno why that is such a big deal (pancakes are super easy to make anyway).

Tiana Kai March 6, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Nothing like Aunt Jemima… the kids like it, what can I do 😉

Tracy Askew February 26, 2014 at 11:15 pm

Peanut butter and Syrup…now if I can figure out how to smuggle my bacon over without it spoiling!

Tiana Kai February 27, 2014 at 11:17 am

Hmmm bacon and sushi would be mighty fine!

Tracy Askew March 13, 2014 at 10:51 pm

Yes, sushi. I once told my boss I would kill for some sushi…he prepared boiled squid!! No kidding I had it video taped on youtube! I was smiling, but dying a bit inside. LOL

Alison February 27, 2014 at 10:05 am

I brought back Tony’s after my last trip home, even though I do make my own cajun spice blend, too. I wish I’d brought back some Chipotle Tabasco, as my one source of the stuff here closed. I miss that smoky flavour. I did stock up on clothing but forgot to look for the neti pot, although I did pick up some Zicam allergy nose spray. I should have gotten some Nyquil or something similar, though, since the Dutch don’t believe in antihistamines, it seems. My one silly thing to bring back was Moon Pies. I can find a lot of things at insane prices at the expat food stores here in the Netherlands, but I know I’m never going to find Moon Pies. 😉

Tiana Kai February 27, 2014 at 11:20 am

Moon Pies are priceless! As for the neti pot, it’s my heaven sent. I grew up on nose sprays and they never improved my breathing just made me sneeze and many unfortunately are addicting. American spices are so amazing and luckily my husband loves good ‘ol Tony’s and BBQ sauces. When he lived in New Orleans and Miami he got a good flavor of American culture. BBQ sauce should be fun to bring back!

Cat of Sunshine and Siestas February 27, 2014 at 10:07 am

Love this. When my boyfriend goes to the US for work (yippee he goes in two days!), I have him bring back Claritin for my allergies, Cheez Its and syrup, and he does all of his shopping there for clothing, too. It’s like parcel day in the Hunger Games, and I usually eat my Cheez Its in a day!

Tiana Kai February 27, 2014 at 11:25 am

Yes Claritin sounds like a great idea! It is sooo hard to not eat all the goodies at once, that is a problem I am not looking forward to confronting. Luckily, you wouldn’t really want to do more than 1-2 sinus rinses a day, so those babies (the packets) will last a year!

Tampons in Italy February 27, 2014 at 11:15 am

[…] to Italy anytime soon don’t forget to pack a box of your preferred female hygiene products (and these other random objects!) because more than likely you won’t find much here. Luckily for me there’s o.b. and […]

lucyandthesky February 27, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Aah I know, there are so many things you can’t get hold of here! I’m preparing for pancake day at the moment (Fat Tuesday in the US I think) and obviously can’t find bicarbonate of soda or buttermilk anywhere. All I can find in the supermarket is the same brand of lievito in polvere and ready to mix bunet. No! No, you terrible baking section, no! It’s not good enough!! Luckily Esselunga up the road has started selling Heinz ketchup and baked beans so I’ve at least got that… xxx

Tiana Kai February 27, 2014 at 12:24 pm

God bless Heinz! If they didn’t sell it here that would have definitely been on my list! Yes, baked goods that we are used to using is not always easy. I wish I would explore different option more often, but oh well!

iyireland February 4, 2015 at 2:56 pm

Hi there, just wanted to say that you CAN get bicarbonate of soda AND a buttermilk equivalent! Bicarbonate of soda is not, however, found in the bakery section (which is where it’s normally located in UK supermarkets). You might have to ask an assistant, in my local Esselunga it is near the digestion products. Anyway, Esselunga do an own-label “Bicarbonato di sodio purissimo” in a pale blue cardboard box with navy writing. For Buttermilk there is a sour milk called Kefir (I think it’s German or Eastern European)
and you will find it in Lidl or Esselunga near the fresh milk and fresh cream in the dairy section of the fridge. Works really well. I hope this helps.

lucyandthesky February 17, 2015 at 11:22 pm

Thank you! 🙂 I did have bicarbonate of soda in the end but now I’m back in the UK so don’t have these problems anymore haha xxx

Teri February 27, 2014 at 1:12 pm

I make my own peanut butter here. Calve isn’t bad, but it still has sugar in it. I buy a bag of roasted salted peanuts at the Coop, toss ’em in the food processor and in 5 minutes you have peanut butter! Plus it saves room in my suitcase for coconut oil and old school brown Listerine when I go back to the states. (I know, weird, but I’ve used it forever and it’s the only thing I REALLY miss!).

Tiana Kai February 27, 2014 at 5:30 pm

I need a food processor! I don’t like Calve’ I prefer 100% only peanuts or almonds. Right, I won’t be packing any, it’s too heavy and not really worth it. I rather save space for hot sauce and just keep dealing with Calve’. Thanks for the suggestions!

Jen February 28, 2014 at 7:24 pm

I always bring back brown sugar. And last time I brought back a large jug of molasses for when the brown sugar runs out. Baked goods just aren’t the same without it. I also refurbish my supply of good deodorant. The Italian stuff doesn’t not seem to include the anti-antiperspirant part of the deal.

Tiana Kai March 1, 2014 at 6:46 pm

Great ideas! I have never baked with molasses, but I’m sure it tastes amazing. As for the deodorant, I need to write that down and definitely stock up!

Paige Miller March 2, 2014 at 11:19 am

That’s too bad y’all don’t have pancake mix in Italy. We have it in the regular supermarkets in Spain because it’s used to make “tortitas.” Only difference is it’s not Aunt Jemima’s.

I’ve been using this Clean&Clear morning burst face wash for years, so I always buy that when I go home. I’m sure I could find something I like just as much in Spain, but it’s just habit. I also buy three-wick candles from Bath&Body Works. Even though they weigh down my suitcase, it’s my little treat to myself and it keeps my house smelling like home. And the clothes…I always stock up. There’s no quality middle price point. It’s always either luxury brands or Zara.

Tiana Kai March 2, 2014 at 11:40 am

Ugh about the clothes! It’s such a pain and even Zara can cost more here than the States, so I don’t see the point in going crazy in Italy. The quality clothes I get from Saks or my favorite boutiques in Miami is always better that what I’ve found in Florence. Plus the price is always more acceptable in the States compared to paying 50€ for crap cotton from China in Italy!

Becky Padmore March 3, 2014 at 9:57 am

Same goes for the UK too, you have so much choice in the US! When we lived there for a few months I remember bringing so many interesting products back!

Tiana Kai March 3, 2014 at 11:36 am

I guess we are spoiled with all the choices, but it’s hard to finally find a product that’s perfect for you and then POOF no more. Since I go back to the States so infrequently it seems to increase my craving for these products…like Boscia and other organic products.

Tay Kai March 6, 2014 at 11:57 am

Nice List! I always bring back steal cut oats to FI and other hot cereals. As far as clothes, shopping in the states is more fun, but I disagree that you get better quality materials/clothing in the USa. The quality of the cheap clothes is the same here as it is over there … cheap is cheap and all that material coming from china is the same. High quality material is going to cost a lot more whether you pay in dollars or in euro.

You can find high quality clothes pretty cheap here in Florence by checking out some of the second hand stores/markets that sell used and vintage clothes. Check out Sant’ambrogio market for starters … You’ve got to do some digging and work a little to sort out the good from the bad, but I’ve gotten quite a few items that way (just make sure you wash before wear,eh!). In the Santo Spirito zone there are some boutiques that make their own clothes and will tailor items that you want for free … not bad

Tiana Kai March 6, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Well of course nicer quality costs more 😉 I’m used to shopping at nice stores in Miami and compared to Italy they are cheaper. I’m taking NY boutiques and DVF dresses. Even the vintage stores here are over priced! Not worth it. And the cheap clothes I’ve seen in Florence are crappier than the cheap clothes I’ve seen in the States.

I’ve been around all those stores or areas you mention and nothing has grabbed my attention. It may just be a style preference and more elbow grease to search for things. At the end of the day it’s still better to buy (nice) things back home. I don’t really see the big deal in it, I rather buy nice things that last a long time than cheapy boots that fall apart after a season or weird sweaters I’ve found in the markets. I know I should investigate more, but it’s not like I shop that much. I gave that hobby up years ago when I moved to Colorado!

Christina Prospero March 27, 2014 at 6:35 pm

I know it’s strange, but when I lived in Fl, I begged US visitors to bring Cheez-its & Oreos. With all the amazing cheeses of Italy, sometimes you just want cheddar. When my parents lived in Rome & I visited from NYC, I surprised them with Aunt Jemima, REAL maple syrup and a dozen bagels. They rationed them for weeks. Have a great trip!

Tiana Kai April 1, 2014 at 10:26 pm

Oh, real bagels?! Nice gift! I do see many expats complain about the lack of cheddar cheese, supposedly they sell it in that one little store about an hour away for an arm and a leg. I didn’t grow up on cheddar, so my cravings are more for rice and beans…and salsa!


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