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Heading on a cross-country road trip: What non-perishable food items should I bring back with me?

Hi there,

I'm heading out on a 2-month Cross-Country road trip this summer, and I would love to bring back some gifts for friends back here in Portland, OR that they just can't get any other way. After a friend recommended Chowhound for some good restaurant suggestions from city to city (and boy, did my forum searches turn up some good suggestions!), I thought maybe the fine community here could help me with this quest as well.

I know that some restaurants offer their own jars and bottles of hot sauces, gravies, etc. And in some cases there are simply some local delicacies that aren't found outside of their natural habitat. (Coffee syrup is a good example-- and I plan to pick some up when I'm in Rhode Island, for sure)

The one catch is that anything I pick up to bring home needs to be non-perishable, since I'll need it to stay pretty fresh while sitting in my car for a month or more. (thus, I sadly cannot bring home any east coast pumpernickel loaves!!) In fact, if you know of any tricks to help food travel well, I'd love to hear them.

To narrow things down, here are a few of the cities I'll be visiting:

Topeka, KS
Kansas City, MO
Eureka Springs, AR
Memphis, TN
Nashville, TN
New Orleans, LA
Charlotte, NC
Washington, D.C.
Baltimore, MD
Philadelphia, PA
New York City, NY
Boston, MA
Portland, ME
Buffalo, NY
Mackinac Island, MI
Madison, WI
Chicago, IL
Black HIlls, SD
Billings, MT

So, what do you say? Do any of these cities provoke the feeling of "Ooh, I would totally stop at ______ and pick up some _______!! It's delicious!!"?

Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated. And I'm certain that my friends' taste buds will appreciate it as well.


- Eric

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  1. The obvious: bottled BBQ sauce and/or dry rub from KS, AR, TN, LA, and NC -- preferably from non-chain joints which frequently sell their products. Between Kansas City and North Carolina, you can get some damn fine barbecue and the places in between are often surprisingly not too shabby either. It would be fun to do as a taste test when you got back!

    My contribution, while you're in the South: Duke's mayo! :)

    I know you said non-perishable, but do yourself a favor and pick up some Anderson-Erickson dairy products while you're in MO or KS, if you can find them, and just eat them on the spot. They make (easily, bar none) the best cottage cheese in the country, and their other products are also super delish.

    7 Replies
      1. re: LaLa

        Big plus two on the Duke's. And should you decide to include Charleston, SC, on your itinerary, get some benne wafers and Anson Mill grits.

        1. re: Sue in Mt P

          Oh man, you've missed me by a day in Charlotte. I'm already in Washington, DC. (and just enjoyed a very fulfilling Ethiopian meal at Etete!) So I've sadly missed out on benne wafers and any grits at all. :(

          I do, however, have a nice, sealed jar of Duke's sitting in my cooler. I can't wait to get it home and try it out. I have a spinach dip recipe that I'm excited to experiment with! :)

          1. re: SabuPDX

            Glad you made it to Etete! That's one of my favorite restaurants in DC. And you get to see nice DC-area summer weather, rather than the sweat bath of the last few weeks!

            1. re: odkaty

              Indeed. Even got a little rain last night. :) But don't you worry-- I've experienced the sweat-bath throughout the rest of the south, and I'm sure I'll be feeling more of it throughout my August travels!

              1. re: SabuPDX

                I can't believe people pay to sweat like this - cracks me up.

                SabuPDX, include us in your next trip. You won't be sorry. So glad you got you some Ethiopian. It's one of the many things I miss about living in DC. And I'm in Charleston! Yowzah.

                1. re: Sue in Mt P

                  Oh my, I'm embarrassed to have read "Charleston" as "Charlotte"-- sorry about that! I think I may just have been a bit loopy from the traveling, and just left Charlotte and everything.

                  I would love to visit Charleston sometime, as I hear that it's absolutely beautiful. Plus, I really do love the south. I will count on it for my next trip in, say, 2013 or so! :)

    1. Sadly, the Mackinac Island fudge wouldn't handle large amounts of time in a hot car, but northern lower Michigan is a huge cherry-producing region. And, okay, the Cherry Republic is a bit of a tourist trap, they really do have a lot of cherry-specific product.


      I suspect that some of the Mackinac fudge shops would ship product for you if you wanted to share the island's flagship food. My Midwestern-born and bred self just wouldn't feel right not bring back fudge from the Island for co-workers and/or house-sitters. It's tradition.

      1 Reply
      1. re: beachmouse

        ITA with beachmouse re: fudge and cherry products.

        There are smoked fish places in Mackinaw City that you might want to visit, although I can't recall seeing any vacuum packed fish a la PNW salmon.

        A bottle of cherry wine or hard cider, lots of local beers of course.

        Are you driving Buffalo to Mackinac via Canada, Sabu? Canadian stuff too, then...Aero bars, Peak Frean cookies...

      2. Chicago would be Hot Giardiniera. Should be multiple varieties in any major grocery store, and most minor ones as well. It will be in a shelf stable jar in the condiment section.

        1 Reply
        1. re: gordeaux

          That was my thought.

          OP, here is a recent thread on the same subject (concerning Chicago) which may be helpful:

        2. Sadly, the "exclusivity" of regional foods is a thing of the past in many instances. Using your coffee syrup example, I regularly buy the Autocrat syrup from their website. Even with shipping it ends up being a good deal. A lot of the foods we'd have to travel for in the past can now come to us.

          1. Hey Everyone,

            Thanks so much for all of the great responses so far!

            Laura: I'll do my best to get some good dry rub. You wouldn't happen to know the names of any good places, would you? I'd love to be steered in the direction of somewhere really memorable. As for Duke's, I will be sure to pick some up! Sounds perfect!

            I'm not much of a cottage cheese person, but maybe that's because I just haven't ever had it the way it was meant to be made. I'll see if I can stop by somewhere for the good stuff while I'm in the area.

            BeachMouse: I've heard great stuff about the Mackinac fudge, and I'm really looking forward to trying it. I was hoping there would be a way it would stay in a car for three weeks, but you're right, that's probably a too much to ask.

            I wasn't aware of the Cherry Republic, so perhaps a bit of Cherry Wine or Cherry Cider would be very nice indeed. :)

            Coney: If you have a recommendation for any particular beers in that area, I'd love to bring them back to friends at home. I don't drink, so it's difficult for me to know what is good and what isn't-- I have many friends here, though, who appreciate the finer brews. :)

            I won't be traveling through Canada, but I know a few places here in Portland where I can get Aero bars. And Smarties!! Don't know about Peak Frean cookies, though-- sounds like I may be missing out on those.

            Gordeaux: Ooh, that sounds... spicy?? I don't even know what that is. hehe But if you say to check it out, I'm sure I know some spice-lovers that would dig it.

            Lily: Thanks for the link-- I'll browse through that thread very shortly!

            Ferret: Yeah, it's kind of a shame (and kind of awesome) that everything you could want is right there at your fingertips these days. Still, I'm hoping that there are some out-of-the-way places that the internet hasn't touched yet. :)

            Thanks again, everyone! I look forward to hearing more if there are more suggestions. I leave on Friday, but I'll be checking e-mail and such from the road. It's gonna be an awesome trip, thanks in no small part to Chowhound!

            2 Replies
            1. re: SabuPDX

              1) Credit Card w/ a good charge limit
              2) What's wrong w/shipping stuff home/to your friends or to someone who will handle it appropriately that you can't pass over? Why does it NEED to sit in your hot car? (scratching head)

              1. re: huiray

                Well, logistically you're right, of course. Maybe it's something old fashioned in me, or whatever...

                I just like the poetry of personally transporting something over weeks of hill and dale and effort and whatnot. The result is the same, but the gesture carries a little more weight. Even if it's a bit restrictive. :)

            2. While you're traversing from NC to DC, stop somewhere and get some good Virginia ham! Many stores carry it in a smoked, shelf stable form, though it may stink up your car a bit! Another VA favorite is peanuts. You can take Rt. 460 just off of I-95 (right around Richmond, VA) and hit the Virginia Diner for a wide assortment of nuts.

              I concur on the BBQ sauce -- if you're coming up I-95 to DC, you can take the 460 east bound exit and Prince George's BBQ is not far. They have some good BBQ, and I believe they sell their sauces.

              Good luck on your journey :) When we used to travel for long periods we'd take a "wet" cooler with ice packs for the stuff that needed to be cold, and a dry cooler with no ice just for containing food (and the food smells!).

              1. local honey - you could build a great collection en route. Bring some bubble plastic to stop jars breaking maybe.

                2 Replies
                1. re: smartie

                  What a terrific idea!

                  My favorite is sourwood - look for it in the mountains of western NC.

                  1. re: meatn3

                    I'll keep an eye out. Thanks! :)

                2. If time permits, get off the Interstate, and look for some of the smaller towns Farmers Markets. You will likely find a whole new world of food. Much will likely be fresh produce, but you can also find locally preserved, or similar preserved foods in Mason jars like your mother used years ago. Just look around, and you can talk to the folks who actually grew and preserved the food. Damissus and I bot a 12 volt cooler several years ago, and plug it into the cars electrical system when traveling through the mid west, and then take the cooler w/ a 110/12 volt converter into the motel at night. Works great, and we feast after we get back to AZ on foods we don't have readily available here.
                  Also, the fresh produce can have the makings of a tasty and healthful lunch.


                  1. While in Philly you have to visit the Reading Teminal Market. You'll find plenty of local, typically Amish non-perishable goods, such as local honey and jams. You can also do a pretty good day's worth of eating there--pork sandwiches, soft pretzels, local chocolates and ice cream, etc.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: gaffk

                      Great suggestion! Add the Amish dried corn to your list along with the jams & honey. It has a sweet, full corn flavor that other dried corn products missed.

                      1. re: gaffk

                        The roast pork sandwiches we had there last year were some of the best things I tasted in all of 2010. Which was a very good year for eating. I want one right.now.
                        The ice cream, too...not transportable but eminently consumable.

                        1. re: buttertart

                          Yes, everybody thinks of cheesesteaks when they hear Philly; but locals know the pork sandwich with provolone and rabe is the *real* Philly specialty. Glad you enjoyed!

                          1. re: gaffk

                            Awesome! I'm adding it to the list. :) I haven't never been too keen on getting a cheesesteak anyway. This sounds much more appetizing!

                      2. Oooh, I would never thought of some wonderful local honeys! And you're right, Farmers Markets will be great places to try something new and un-internetable!

                        Gaff and Sherri: Philadelphia is one of my most anticipated destinations, and now it's even moreso! :) I'll definitely stop by the Reading Market and check out some of the Amish fare.

                        I'm so glad my friend recommended this site to me. You can all been more than generous with your suggestions! I leave tomorrow, and I look forward to returning two months from now with a car stocked full of great food from across the country.

                        Not to mention tons and tons of stories to tell, I'm sure!

                        I'll be checking my e-mail/web sites while I'm on the road, so I'll keep apprised of any updates to this list. But once again, I can't thank y'all enough. Woohoo!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: SabuPDX

                          Have a great trip! And go with the honey suggestion--now that I think about it, I always bring honey back when vacationing.

                        2. More of a logistical thought, but any chance that you could ship some of that stuff you acquire during the trip to someone you know in the PDX area via priority mail or similar for safekeeping (I've done this myself with other items, food and otherwise, while I've been on extended trips)?

                          And it won't necessarily work for truly perishable things like that pumpernickel and Mackinac Island fudge perhaps, it may expand your range of items that are within reach. If nothing else, it may lessen the stuff you need to keep track of while you're journeying around the country.

                          1. The best Indian restaurant in DC - and probably in the country - is Rasika. They sell several jarred curries that would be nice to take back.

                            11 Replies
                            1. re: woodleyparkhound

                              Second this.

                              And a non-perishable item, but not to be missed, is boiled peanuts. And since you're passing through Memphis, I can tell you I've found them (fresh boiled!) at the farmer's market on the old prison grounds. I think the farmer's market is open year-round. Perhaps even several days a week.

                              1. re: odkaty

                                Nice! I've never had a boiled peanut, and I'm definitely planning to check out a lot more farmers' markets based on the recommendations on this board. Certainly something to look forward to!

                                1. re: SabuPDX

                                  "non-perishable" should read "perishable" ... I found pickled canned okra, and a huge assortment of unusual dried beans too at the farmer's market.

                                  1. re: odkaty

                                    I figured, about the peanuts. I'll see what else I can find while I'm there. Thanks! :)

                                    1. re: SabuPDX

                                      I'll second pickled okra - my sister makes the best - and you can find them at farmer's markets in NC and probably some states close by too.

                                      1. re: Jeanne

                                        I'll keep my eye out for it, for sure. I'm not a big fan of pickled veggies, but I have some friends at home who I think would go nuts for it! :)

                              2. re: woodleyparkhound

                                Ooh, this sounds great! My brother lives in DC, and I know that we both love Indian food. If he hasn't already been to Rasika, I look forward to taking him there! (and if he has, then I'm sure he'll enjoy a return visit) :)

                                1. re: SabuPDX

                                  If you haven't tried Ethiopian food, DC's a good destination for that too.

                                  1. re: odkaty

                                    I've enjoyed the Ethiopian I've tried-- Portland has some good places. :) I'll see if my brother would be up for some exploring. I know he also has a few places he'd like to show me, too, including a burger place that he promises is the best he's ever had. Tall order. We'll see how that turns out... ;)

                                    1. re: SabuPDX

                                      Is it Ray's? If so, he's right! Etete is one of the best Ethiopian places in town.

                                2. re: woodleyparkhound

                                  It is my sad responsibility to report that Rasika no longer sells their jarred curries. :(

                                  I was also unable to make accommodations to eat there this trip. I will have to make reservations for my next trip to DC.

                                  Finally, I know this is the Chowhound website, but if you'll permit me a shift to Theatrehound mode:

                                  Right next door to Rasika is the Wooly Mammoth Theater. I was at a show of theirs about 15 years ago ("The Marriage of Mr. Mississippi"), and it was amazing. Tonight, I went back there for another show ("Clybourne Park") and it was, once again, amazing. To sum up, every single show I've ever seen at the Wooly Mammoth has bowled me over. If you're a theater-lover, you owe it to yourself to check out one of their performances. :)

                                3. Grandma utz potato chips, fresh from costco or the factory.
                                  handmade sourdough pretzels (from akron or gettysburg)

                                  12 Replies
                                  1. re: Chowrin

                                    Ah... for some reason, Grandma Utz sounds familiar to me. I'll keep my eye out for her potato chips and try to grab a few bags to bring back with me. :)

                                    I can't thank you all enough! :)

                                    1. re: SabuPDX

                                      pshaw. the factory's named Utz. The Grandma Utz ones are in the brown paper bags. fried in lard.

                                      1. re: Chowrin

                                        Noted. :) I'll seek them out, best I can.

                                        1. re: SabuPDX

                                          hmm... still on the road? either stop off at the factory, or go to the harrisburg costco (they are JUST as fresh as at the factory. make great roadfood)

                                          1. re: Chowrin

                                            Indeed. I'm in Tennessee right now, but I plan to be in Pennsylvania in early August. I'm looking forward to checking out the factory. :)

                                            1. re: SabuPDX

                                              I assume you are traveling on I-40? If so, on your way to Charlotte you could swing by Sunburst Trout (just west of Asheville, nice drive almost to the Blueridge Parkway). There are a few items that will travel safely by car, such as smoked tomato jam and trout jerky. Other products will be great for a picnic!


                                              If you are interested in food then Asheville and Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill should be on your list of stops. Both areas have a great food focus with lots of tailgate markets.

                                              Have a terrific trip!

                                              Oops, almost forgot. You can find country ham in Tn, NC & Va. It is often available in shelf stable packets consisting of just a slice. Nice for gifts.

                                              1. re: meatn3

                                                Ooh, that sounds cool! I have a friend who loves jerky, and I'll bet he's never had trout before. (neither have I, for that mater)

                                                I'm considering making Asheville a day stop, replacing Charlotte, on the advice of some folks I just met in Eureka Springs a few days ago. Sounds like it could be worth checking out, for sure!

                                                1. re: SabuPDX

                                                  while you're in PA, you should stop and get some Gettysburg Pretzels (sold in gettysburgh, where else?)
                                                  Also, pick up some martin's potato bread and some sweet lebanon bologna from a Giant (or visit the factories...). Great road food!

                                                  1. re: SabuPDX

                                                    If you do switch to Asheville, check out Rezaz. It's a wonderful Mediterranean restaurant I fell in love with on my two visits to that city. Also, if you go to Biltmore, they have several restaurants as well as some great non-perishables (honey, jelly, etc).

                                                    And not transportable (especially in this heat), but well worth a visit, is the Chocolate Fetish. I was fortunate to visit once in winter and my coworkers are still raving over the toffee I brought them back.

                                                    1. re: gaffk

                                                      Ooh! These all sound like must-dos! I'll check them out while I'm in the area. :)

                                                      1. re: gaffk

                                                        Hey GaffK,

                                                        Just had to tell you that I ate at Rezaz this afternoon, and boy was it spectacular! I didn't have much of an appetite (traveling does that to me), but the crab/scallop cake and the peach tart I had for dessert were simply wonderful. Thanks so much for the suggestion!

                                                        (sadly, I didn't get to explore much more of Asheville before moving on... but I did get some sourwood honey at the flea market this morning, and I'm looking forward to sharing it with friends at home) :)

                                                        1. re: SabuPDX

                                                          Glad you enjoyed it! (But now I'm craving the paella I had there.)

                                      2. I'd pick up some Arthur bryant's original and hot, Gate's original and hot, Zarda's, some Head Country from Okla which i found at a WalMart community market,(thanks Chilliheadmike :)) Some Cherry Mashes and some Valomilks while in KC.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: bbqboy

                                          Oh man, I'm already past KC and Oklahoma. I'll have to keep those in mind for next time, though. :)

                                          I did try to buy some of the sauce at Snead's in KC, which I really liked (more than I liked the meat itself, to be honest)... but they said it wouldn't travel very well, and that shipping it is expensive. Boooooooo!

                                        2. While I was in Arkansas yesterday, I picked up a bottle of Gus Nectar Garlic Olive Oil (http://www.gusnectar.com/) as well as the seasoning to make more oils, vinegars, and other sundry. The locals I ran into raved about it (the dry seasoning in particular), and that was good enough for me. :)

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: SabuPDX

                                            Would the olive oil drop off in its flavor & qualities fairly quickly when stored at high temps - like in a very hot car - for weeks? I see from the website they use EVOO even though it is now admixed with all that stuff...

                                            1. re: huiray

                                              This is where I have to rely on other folks for information. The woman I spoke to at the farmer's market told me that the olive oil would be just fine, even after I explained the situation about the heat and whatnot.

                                              As for the Extra Virgin Olive Oil thing... I don't know enough to understand your concerns, but if you'd care to explain...?

                                          2. in new orleans you can visit central grocery and get a jar of olive salad. they will ship it in a box with bubble wrap. it's not the same without the genuine bread, but mmm... muffuletta...

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: ta0126

                                              Mmmm.... I'm just beginning to really appreciate olives, and this sounds like a wonderful opportunity to get some of the good stuff. :) Do you happen to know if the jar will travel safely in a car for a few weeks? I'd love to carry it with me if it won't spoil.

                                            2. Hi everyone,

                                              Again and again, I am so thrilled for the great advice and suggestions you're sharing. Thanks so much!

                                              At the risk of self-promotion, I wanted to take the opportunity, for those who are interested, to share the journal I'm keeping for my trip. You're welcome to follow along at http://www.sabudesign.com/roadtrip2011/ Not a lot of food stuff there, but you can bet I'll mention some whenever I stop by a place that blows me away. :


                                              I'm in Nashville right now, but New Orleans is next on my list. I can't wait-- seems like it'll be a great city to check out for a few days!

                                              1. In New England keep an eye out for B & M Brown Bread in a can. It has raisins and is good warm with butter or cream cheese. Eat it with ham and beans or for breakfast or dessert.

                                                Check the grocery stores here for Bar Harbor brand Indian Pudding and other local products in their line. The pudding must be stirred well and served warm with cream or ice cream.


                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: calliope_nh

                                                  I don't want to sound ignorant, but... bread... in a can?? :)

                                                  1. re: SabuPDX

                                                    I grew up with B&M Brown Bread in a can.
                                                    Love it w/cream cheese

                                                    1. re: SabuPDX

                                                      It is steamed rather than baked. Here is a picture and description.

                                                      1. re: calliope_nh

                                                        I picked some up yesterday, but I forgot to check that I had the raisin version, and it turns out I have four cans of the "original." D'oh! I'll have to pick up some of the raisin before heading out of New England tomorrow. :) I'm looking forward to it.

                                                        (I don't know how common it is-- seems like some folks love it, and the rest have never heard of it. It took three people in the grocery store before someone said "Oh, sure. I know Bread in a Can." The rest looked at me like I was crazy.) :)

                                                  2. Chicago:

                                                    Frango mints from Marshall Fields (now Macys)
                                                    Garrett Popcorn

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: GraceW

                                                      Ooh, I've heard about those mints (from the "What should I pick up in Chicago?" thread)... very curious to check them out!

                                                      1. re: SabuPDX

                                                        At the Marshall Fields (now called Macys) on State Street downtown, they even have a Frango Cafe with all types of Frangos.

                                                        The packages are sealed very well--so stock up, because they can definitely stay fresh tasting for a good long time (although usually they are hard to keep without eating them all! we had a box that I had hidden from family and months/years? later we found and it was still amazing!). They are great with coffee--especially Intelligentsia.

                                                        1. re: GraceW

                                                          Ooh, that's good to know that they last a long time! I'm planning on having some kind of sampler feast with my friends when I get back home. I just bought a second cooler to carry more food in. :)