September 24, 2023


For splendid leisure

Wherever I Go, I Seek Out Salt

3 min read
Condé Nast Traveler

On a breezy day in October 2019, fresh off my morning 7-11 egg-salad sandwich and cold can of Boss coffee, I navigated my way through the crowds at the Azabu-Juban stop on the Tokyo Metro. I walked a couple of blocks through bustling sidewalks, and arrived at Ma-Suya, a culinary store stocked to the brim with just one item—salt.

The walls of Ma-Suya were packed with salt, over 300 kinds, sourced from every possible place and for every imaginable use. Among these, a range of scented bath salts, large blocks of pink Himalayan salt for grilling on, salt amulets for protection when hiking, and, of course, salt for cooking: fine Okinawan sea salt known as Yukishio; delicate gray salt from the Noto Peninsula; Amabito no Moshio that was scraped off seaweed; and bowls full of salt compounded with yuzu, cocoa, truffle, matcha, and plum. A soft-serve machine churned out simple, salt-inflected vanilla ice cream, which customers sprinkled with their choice of a dozen other salts, including a punchy wasabi mixture and a tangy citrus salt. It was a salt wonderland.

Salt comes in many textures, shapes, and presentations—even something as simple as the size of your salt matters.

Pavel Neznanov/Unsplash

I came to Ma-Suya not just for its novelty, but because to me, it represented the ultimate souvenir store. Some people collect keychains and shot glasses on travels; my grandmother used to collect souvenir spoons wherever she went; but for me, the thing I always make room for in my bag is far more utilitarian—salt. 

My hunt for salt isn’t one that everyone understands, because isn’t all salt just sodium chloride after all? It’s true that unless you go for a flavored or compound salt, the grains that you bring back from Japan are going to taste similar to the ones from the box of Morton’s in your kitchen: salty. So why devote precious luggage space to something you could pick up at the corner store?

The difference comes in salt’s many textures, shapes, and presentations. Something as simple as the size of your salt matters—and the kind of salt that cooks use, no matter where you go, can affect the ultimate flavor of the cuisine, almost as much as local produce and culinary technique. As an avid home cook, I regularly attempt to recreate dishes from the places that I’ve gone to on vacation, and I’ve found that it often comes down to having the right salt. 

I started my salt collection on a solo trip to Paris six years ago, trying to find a balm for a rough breakup in the city’s many pastries and perfume shops. I popped into Le Bon Marché and headed straight for its designer purses and jewel-toned silk scarves, only to find they were all vastly out of my price range. I wanted something transformative to bring back, a talisman that I could reach for when I returned to Brooklyn to face all the usual struggles of daily life, to remind myself of the person I was in Paris—unburdened, curious, and open to whatever the future might bring. When I moved on to browsing the gourmet foods section, my eye snagged on a box of Fleur de Sel de Guerande, a hand-harvested sea salt from Brittany. As a souvenir, it was affordable and practical. It was also something I knew I would interact with all the time in my kitchen, and my favorite kind of gift to myself: the most luxurious version of a quotidian object. I bought it and tucked it into my carry-on. When I got home, I found that each time I used the salt, it brought me a little moment of pleasure, a tiny memory of swooping around Paris by myself, feeling a little heartbroken and a little bit more glamorous for it.

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