Benne wafers

Benne wafers

Because my husband and I live in America, it didn’t immediately dawn on us that the car we rented in Sardinia was enormous.

But the fact that we were driving a station wagon became clear as soon as we wedged it down a narrow street in Bitti. It took half a dozen locals to free the car, which couldn’t be maneuvered around a corner without popping a reverse wheelie (Don’t tell the rental company, please.)

Since we’d used up our share of the townspeople’s time and driving skills, in addition to creating an hour-long roadblock, I felt like we owed something to the good Bittians. Fortunately, on that front, I was prepared.

On the rare occasions when I travel internationally, I like to bring small gifts for friendly strangers I might meet. The trick is finding the right item. Ideally, it should be small and light for packing purposes; representative of Charleston; relatively affordable; TSA-approved; not readily available overseas and likely to be universally appreciated without much accompanying explanation.

In the past, I’ve resorted to souvenir magnets. They don’t seem to thrill anybody, but as polite gestures go, they’re acceptable. That’s what I planned on buying when I went to the Charleston City Market before my recent trip. But while there I discovered a substitute gift so good that I’m not leaving the country again without it.

Byrd Cookie Company, the 95-year-old Savannah bakery, last year started putting its benne wafers in one-ounce bags printed with a photographic image of sweetgrass baskets. At $1.50 apiece, I bought every bag that the Historic Charleston Foundation stall had in stock.

“We wanted a way to have a wonderful taste of the Lowcountry that was portable and really easy to share,” president Geoff Repella says of the package’s development. “We’ve had people buy them for events, welcome bags for a wedding or just a lunch box.”

When I gave a bag to a Bitti woman who threw aside her crutches to try to drive our rental car out of trouble, she hugged me.

“People love a good snack that looks good,” Repella says, adding that shoppers should be able to find the mini bags at either of Byrd’s two locations on Market Street. They’re also sold online at

“If people eat more cookies, we’ll bake more cookies,” he vows.

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.