With the beginning of the holiday season comes the start of one of the most travel-heavy periods of the year. And, because when we think travel we immediately think food, we’ve rustled up some of our favorite regional snacks from all around the country. Whether you’re looking for the perfect edible gift to bring your family on the opposite coast, or simply searching for some local snacks to stuff in your suitcase after the trip, here are some reliably delicious go-to food gifts, no matter where you’re traveling.
Garrett’s Popcorn (Chicago, Illinois)
The minute we land at O’Hare, whether it’s our place of departure, arrival, or somewhere in between, we head to the airport outpost of Garrett’s Popcorn. Trust us, you’ll want a big bag (just for yourself) and a tin for family and friends, and it’s gotta be the Garrett mix, half cheese corn and half caramel. Just try it, you’ll be immediately hooked. If you’re in the Windy city, pick it up at one of their many shops downtown.
This Ohio specialty, named after the slang term for Ohio natives, also shares a name with Ohio State University’s famed football team. The sensational candy features a peanut butter ball dipped in chocolate with a circle of peanut butter left un-dipped on top. You can get them (or make them!) widely, but we especially love these ones.
Skyline Chili (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Canned chili might seem like a strange item to bring to guests or stock in your suitcase, but when it’s Skylight it needs no explanation. This Cincinnati favorite has been much-loved since the first Skylight restaurant opened in 1949—it’s all about the super secret spice blend.
Breads from Zingerman’s
If you’ve been to Ann Arbor, you’ve most likely heard of Zingerman’s. Originally started as a deli in 1982, the company has grown into a purveyor of everything from noodle kugel and handmade pastries to charcuterie and cheeses. We especially love Zingerman’s homemade breads, and if you can pick up some loaves, any host (or guest) will be thrilled.
Zapp’s Potato Chips
Made in Gramercy, Louisiana, Zapp’s potato chips are a favorite throughout the South thanks to their thicker, crunchy texture and unique flavor (they’re kettle cooked in peanut oil unlike most chips, which are cooked in vegetable oil). Because you can never have too many snacks around the holidays, pick up some Zapp’s for your home or hosts!
While peanuts are eaten around the world, boiled peanuts are a snack completely unique to the South. Raw green peanuts are boiled in salted water until the shells soften completely. There are regional versions throughout the South depending on the seasonings, so grab a bag (or three) from roadside stands and gas stations for your Thanksgiving celebration.
There’s a reason why people return from North Carolina with suitcases full of Cheerwine. Firstly, it’s not available anywhere else, and secondly, it’s effervescent cherry perfection. During a sugar shortage in 1917, LD Peeler created Cheerwine, and the business remains in his family still—his great-grandson runs the company today! The bubbly beverage will be a very welcome gift for kids and adults alike, or just for your own refrigerator.
Palmetto Cheese Spread
Sure, your pre-Thanksgiving cheese board is replete with charcuterie and artisanal cheese, but what about Palmetto cheese spread? This brand of pimento cheese, that unapologetically decadent Southern dish, features spreadable Cheddar cheese studded with pimento peppers.
It’s it Ice Cream
Ice cream sandwiches are a very familiar concept, but any San Franciscan will tell you that there’s nothing quite like an It’s it. First created in 1928, the frozen treat features vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two oatmeal cookies and enrobed in chocolate. These days, you can get the dessert with a variety of ice cream flavors, from pumpkin to green tea to cappuccino. If you’ve got a cooler handy, pick up a bunch for your gathering or save the hassle and order online!
The only way to get through a Thanksgiving weekend, if you’re the host, is plenty of coffee. Though there are coffee roasteries aplenty throughout the country, we’re particularly partial to beans from California and Washington. Add a few mugs with the beans, and you’ll be the ultimate guest.
With its preponderance of wineries, breweries, and distilleries, the West Coast is a pretty awesome place to drink and purchase booze, and every imbibing adult at the table will thank you. From California Chardonnay and Oregon Pinot Noir to Utah whiskey and beer from all corners of the coast, take advantage of this boozy location!
This Pennsylvania Dutch classic is a sticky pie served throughout the Northeast. Made largely from molasses, it gets its name from the flies that must be shooed away from the enticing smell of the syrup. You can never have too much pie on Thanksgiving, so pick up a Shoofly, or even make one yourself!
Thanksgiving is, of course, a holiday about feeding people…and often lots of people. But it’s not just the turkey dinner, there’s a lot of other meals throughout the extended weekend! If you’re lucky to live in the bagel haven that is the Northeast, consider bringing a load of bagels with you, they’ll definitely notice the difference (and you won’t have to eat sub-par bagels!). Some of our favorite bagels spots in New York include Absolute Bagels, Ess-A Bagel, and Tompkins Square Bagel. Pick them up as close to your departure as possible to avoid staleness.
Thanks to our cookie obsession (who doesn’t have one?), we’ve tried pretty much every cookie in New York. You can never go wrong serving cookies at a gathering or gifting them to a host. Although there are myriad bakeries throughout the city (and the Northeast, of course), we particularly love the look on someone’s face when they try a Momofuku Milk Bar Corn cookie. Spoiler alert: they always love it. We’re equally into Levain’s widely-known chocolate chip cookies.
The Crab Chips (Utz)
If you hail from the DC/Maryland area, or are heading that way over the holiday, you should say “yay!” to anything Old Bay. If you can’t bring an entire crab boil (might be overkill with a turkey dinner, anyway), at least bring the flavors, with Utz’s crunchy, smoky, and ultra-delicious Old bay Chips. Fun fact: chips go with everything.
Leah Bhabha is a cookbook co-author, recipe tester, and food writer who has written for numerous publications including Food & Wine, Marie-Claire, The Guardian, and Food52. She is a recipe editor at Plated and also chronicles her cooking and eating experiences on her blog, OneHungryPickle.com.
To discover even more delicious recipes, sign up for Plated.Get 25% off your first four weeks of Plated!