When exploring a foreign country, there’s perhaps no easier way to take a crash course in local culture than by perusing the drugstore candy aisle, which can speak volumes about the palate and aesthetic of a place — plus, surprising sweets make the best souvenirs. In the age of internet shopping, of course, you can recreate that experience from the comfort of your own home. So take a break from Big Candy, and try some German “cat tongues” or New Zealand Pineapple Lumps.
From Mexico, Pulparindo, one of many forms of spicy, sour, salty sweets made from tamarind pulp and chili. This one resembles a miniature, individually wrapped fruit leather — though slightly thicker and less stretchy — with a satisfyingly gritty texture, and a serious kick of heat.
From New Zealand, the sweetie known as Pascall Pineapple Lumps: soft chews flavored with real pineapple juice and coated in chocolate, likened by many to Charleston Chews in terms of texture.
From Finland, Turkish-pepper-flavored hard candies with a soft, insanely salty, astringent licorice filling known as salmiak.
More salmiak, different Scandinavian country. In this Danish version, it comes in the form of a paste, which is encased in a more familiar gummy tube of sweet black licorice, then coated in salt.
From the Netherlands, coffee-flavored hard candies both beloved by children and often recommended for staying awake on long drives, or for slogging through a slow workday.
From Germany, Katzenzungen, which translates to “cat tongues,” the shape of which these milk-chocolate treats are made to mimic.
Also from Germany: sour hard candies, in flavors from sweet woodruff (an herb) to raspberry, that fizz as they dissolve in your mouth.
From Switzerland, Ovomaltine (a.k.a. Ovaltine) chocolate bars, which are on the pricey side. But in the words of one reviewer: “These chocolate bars make me think I died and went to heaven. … Smooth, a little smoky, a bit crispy, salty, sweet … malted.”
The super-popular, chewy, mild Chinese milk candies called White Rabbit also come in delightful edible paper.
Eat these durian-flavored, chewy Chinese milk candies, on the other hand, at your own risk. Warns one reviewer: “It smells of onions and dirty socks. Actual taste is somewhat sweet and fruity.”
Cadbury Cherry Ripe, said to be Australia’s oldest chocolate bar, with a cherry and coconut filling, and an Old Gold chocolate exterior.
Russian milk caramels whose name translates to “little cow,” with a fudgy texture and a liquid center.
Or try the Polish version of little cows, equally beloved there.
These violet-scented anise drops (which contain a single seed at the center of each) have been made in France since the 17th century.