10 Small Ways to Taste the South

(Image credit: Susanna Hopler)

Whether you’re a Baton Rouge native or Boise born and bred, here are 10 small ways to taste the South, all of which are readily available in most major grocery stores or online. Just because you find yourself north of the Mason-Dixon line doesn’t mean you have to eat like it.

  1. Velveeta: Sure, Velveeta originated in New York State, but nobody puts it to better use than a Tex-Mex restaurant. Melted with salsa and served with tortilla chips, chile con queso or simply “queso” is the simple staple many Texans can’t live without. Molina’s Cantina in Houston made “Jose’s Dip” — queso laced with spiced ground taco beef — a local legend and a household name. However you take your queso, it all begins with a highly processed, cheese-adjacent product. Yum.
  2. Pork Rinds: Almost every culture has its own pork rinds, from Cajun cracklins to Mexican chicharrónes to Dutch knabblespek (literally “nibbling bacon”), and the South is no exception. Yankee bacon-eaters avert their eyes, but it’s practically the same thing. Crack open an RC and dig in.
  3. Duke’s Mayonnaise: What is the deal with Duke’s mayonnaise? First created by Greenville, North Carolina, resident Eugenia Duke in 1917, Duke’s has garnered a rabid fan base in some parts of the South. Its winning formula? A super-creamy texture and distinctive flavor. For Duke’s devotees, nothing else will do.
  4. Pickled Peaches: The best way to enjoy a Georgia peach in the off-season? Pickled and spiced. My mother has served them on the side with Thanksgiving dinner for as long as I can remember, and their cool, sweet flesh cuts the fat and balances the flavors of the rest of the meal.
  5. Tabasco Sauce: Last year was the year of keeping hot sauce in your bag after Hillary Clinton admitted to carrying it around with her — but that’s something born-and-bred Southerners have been doing for ages. Those of us who don’t mess around opt for the original Tabasco, which imparts a swift vinegary kick without too much sweetness. Another person who doesn’t mess around? Queen Elizabeth, who awarded the brand a Royal Warrant in 2009.
  6. Beef Jerky: Pick up a few Slim Jims at the gas station and drop them in the bottom of your gym bag, keep them stashed in the glove compartment in your car, or stock an emergency supply in your cellar to gnaw on during the next tornado. Beef jerky is forever.
  7. Zapp’s: It’s hard to beat these kettle-cooked chips, which hail from the Big Easy. With just-right thickness, just-right seasoning, and just-right old-school packaging, they’re a great accompaniment to a po’ boy or a barbecue sandwich. The jalapeño flavor is a winner; the Voodoo variety — created, as legend has it, when a company employee accidentally mixed together five different spices — is a cult favorite.
  8. Moon Pies: How the Moon Pie has remained so humble all these years is something of a mystery, because this treasured snack cake is a recipe for success: marshmallow filling gets smooshed between two round graham crackers, and the whole thing is dipped in a thin layer of chocolate.
  9. RC Cola: If you look hard enough, you can find RC all over the world (its largest bottler is in the Philippines), but Georgia-born RC is a southern soda if there ever was one.
  10. Boiled Peanuts: To the uninitiated, boiled peanuts are exactly what they sound like — whole peanuts cooked, shell and all, in salty boiled water — which makes this an easy project for an intrepid home taste test. The tender legumes that result certainly aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but they’re a beloved Southern comfort nonetheless.