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When The Sausage Gets Taken Away: Reflections on Travel and Food (Essay)

We just got back from a trip to Colombia (I promise to tell you about it very soon!) and while we were there, I thought a lot about writing, and the kind of writing that I want to be doing. Don’t worry, this space isn’t changing much (and more recipes are coming your way) but every once in a while, I’d like to share a more essay-style, short-story-like piece with you. I hope you enjoy it, and I’d love your feedback!

The missed opportunity of re-living an experience back home through the taste of a place.

“Is that…sausage?” the inspector at U.S. Border Patrol quizzically asked me as I was passing through customs on my way home from Lisbon, Portugal several years ago. The X-ray revealed a large, curled rod dead smack in the center of my suitcase. I could see it, and my knees immediately started to buckle. Caught red-handed, I fessed up: I did try to bring a chorizo sausage back with me. To be fair, I didn’t know that cured meats were on the no-no list, but still. Yes, it was purchased in Lisbon, but it was vacuum-packed! And the nice man at the deli assured me that I could take it on the plane with me.

The woman made me pour out the rest of the questionable contents of my bag: soft and hard cheeses, fried beans, preserves. I silently spoke to myself: ‘please don’t take the sausage, please don’t take the sausage, please don’t take the sausage.’ But she took away the sausage. My consolation prize was that I got to keep the cheese. “Technically,” she said with a frown, “I should take this away from you, too.” She must have seen my pleading eyes.

I wonder what the Border Patrol inspectors do with all of those ‘illegal items’: caviar, exotic fruits, seeds, and meat products. I came home, sans sausage, sulking in the knowledge that I never even sampled it at the store. My friend Maggie reminded me that at least we did not buy the ‘very expensive’ sausage, opting for the mid-range option. Still, I really wanted that sausage. And what did that lady do with it? Probably throw it away.

I have this habit: when I travel to a new place, I try to buy a piece of jewelry from that place. The logic behind this is that I am almost always guaranteed to get something that no one else back home will have, I will always have room for it in my suitcase and it will always remind me of that place. I have rings from Prague, Dublin, and Venice, necklaces from Boston and New York, and earrings from Moscow and Portland. These small mementos serve as permanent reminders of experiences. But food, food is different.

There is something about bringing a little slice of taste from a place that you’ve visited that’s so different from a traditional souvenir. Sure, you can still enjoy some pottery, a wallet, a handmade piece of art, but with a food item, you can actually relive your trip for just a few more days.

It doesn’t just evoke a memory: it re-creates the experience in your kitchen, your backyard, or even on a spontaneous bike ride or trip to the park. Passion fruit butter from Hawaii spread on a piece of toast the morning after you get back from Kauai lets you relive breakfast with a view of the ocean. A beer from one of Portland’s breweries, drunk with your dad by the pool at his house brings a little piece of Oregon to California. And Panforte from Siena, Italy, enjoyed in a park near your home takes you on an evening passeggiata.

So what did I miss most about that chorizo sausage that I never got to taste? Well, that I never got to recreate the experience that I had in Lisbon. Not even just for a little bit.

Posted by Kasey

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Kasey is the food editor and co-founder of Turntable Kitchen. She loves dark chocolate, warm crusty bread, and traveling to new places. She speaks Russian, but does not like vodka.

  • http://www.bevcooks.com Bevweidner

    I am absolutely in love with the picture. Any one want to take me there? Yes? No?

  • Lightouts

    Great article. I’m also in the habit of bringing back suitcases of cured meats from foreign lands. Most recently I managed to get some sort of pork jerky from Rome back in. It’s strangely moist and a little spicy; kind of like a pepperoni flavor with the consistency of chicken breast. Sounds gross now that I think about it, but hey- it’s pork.

  • Lightouts

    Great article. I’m also in the habit of bringing back suitcases of cured meats from foreign lands. Most recently I managed to get some sort of pork jerky from Rome back in. It’s strangely moist and a little spicy; kind of like a pepperoni flavor with the consistency of chicken breast. Sounds gross now that I think about it, but hey- it’s pork.

  • http://www.dramaticpancake.com Kathryn | Dramatic Pancake

    So true the way food can transport you to another place and time. Beautiful piece.

  • Tracy

    Ahhh schucks! Caught with a big ole sausage in yer bag! At least it didn’t have batteries! I kid…I like your idea of jewelry. I usually bring a camera full of pictures back and a few little snacks and preserves. But jewelry is special. You are right about that.

  • http://www.xobreakfast.com noelle

    This makes me want to give the bottle of pastis a hug!

  • http://www.dulanotes.com NicoleD

    Dang! You know those airport security people must have loot potlucks :) Collecting jewelry on your travels is a great idea. Can’t wait to hear about the trip!

  • http://www.turntablekitchen.com Kasey

    I know!!!

  • http://www.turntablekitchen.com Kasey

    Aww – I totally know what you mean :)

  • http://www.turntablekitchen.com Kasey

    I love bringing back preserves, too. Jewelry, though. Big one. This trip, I didn’t get any but I did get that great hat! ;) It was a must in the hot Caribbean sun.

  • http://www.turntablekitchen.com Kasey

    Thank you, Kathryn!

  • http://www.turntablekitchen.com Kasey

    Ohh, so you get away with it??? What I would do to bring back SO many tasty treats from Rome right now…

  • http://www.turntablekitchen.com Kasey

    Thank you! Also, I should clarify – while the article is about Lisbon, the photo above is actually a sneak peak at my trip to Colombia – those are the streets of old town Cartagena. :)

  • http://www.saffronlane.com/blog Elizabeth @ Saffron Lane

    Ugh, I can so relate! The best airport security (aka beagle dogs) are always sniffing around my suitcase after a great food trip. I still have a bottle of Vin Santo from my honeymoon years ago. There’s a *chance* it may no longer be drinkable but each time I see it, I’m swept off to a perfectly sunny day spent wine tasting in Tuscany.

  • Kickpleat

    I tried to bring back from Berlin a tiny can with 1 pickle in it, gimmicky, but I love me some pickle! Trouble was that I only travel with carry-on luggage so it was immediately flagged as liquid and tossed. I felt like I could cry, so I understand completely. And I love that you bring back a piece of jewelry from every country you visit. Great idea!

  • http://twitter.com/ladomestique Jess O’Toole

    Great post! Love the short story style. Changing and growing is good because the space just becomes more “you” and that’s what brings people (like me) here.

  • Ed

    so true, U.S. Customs is so unpredictable!

  • http://www.turntablekitchen.com Kasey

    Aw, thanks Jess!

  • http://www.turntablekitchen.com Kasey

    Isn’t it the worst?? Like watching yourself lose something that you can never get back. I’m so glad that the jewelry idea has sparked so much interest!

  • http://www.turntablekitchen.com Kasey

    Oh yea- I hate breaking things open when I get home…I always try to savor just knowing it’s there for as long as I can!

  • http://www.beyondtheplate.net/ Danielle

    Lovely piece of writing here Kasey! I’ve been guilty of ‘smuggling’ in bottles of my mother’s chili sauce too. I guess this just means you need another trip to Portugal ;)

  • http://www.turntablekitchen.com Kasey

    So true!

  • Nadine

    oh! i thought i had figured it out! After many trips going back to Europe and hesitating when i fill out the custom paper…do i declare?do i not? The fine is steep!
    Finally one day, with a suitecase full of gifts/food – i decided i would simply go to the declare custom section and ask. The result was very surprising: i could keep everything – that included: homeade honey, parmesan cheese vacuum sealed, pate in cans, chocolate. The answer i got from the custom officer was: you can bring any food (except meat) – as long as they can read on a can what temperature it was cooked! Cheese was a no-problem and neither farm goods…so..i felt pretty good..but now that i read everybody’s experience it seems different each time….Grrrrrr

  • http://www.turntablekitchen.com Kasey

    Hey Nadine! I think you are right, most times you’re in the clear…I think meat and fresh goods (like fruit and veggies) and anything live is the issue. Glad you were able to keep all of your goodies!

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