From Texas and New Mexico to South Carolina and Maryland, culinary souvenirs are the trendiest way to not only remember your vacation, but to taste and savor it as well. So, as you criss-cross the roads of America be sure and sample specialties, and even bring home some of those light-weight, affordable, and tasty souvenirs. Then engage in an at-home experience that will bring back those nostalgic road trip memories and have you hankering for more.
Here are four regional flavors and products that are some of the “best-of-the-best” as food souvenirs go.
A Texas-Style Steak Rub from Buffalo Gap, Texas: Perini’s Steak Rub
Texas is famous for cowboy-sized steaks, the smell of mesquite fires, and good chuck wagon cooking. However, Tom Perini, a rancher and culinary cowboy, has managed to bring cowboy cuisine to new heights with his culinary rubs and creations – quite a feat since things in Texas always seem to be bigger and better to begin with.
As owner of the famous Perini Ranch Steak House – considered by some to be the best in West Texas – he has developed a secret rub that just about guarantees moist, juicy steaks and burgers. My kids swear by this rub and ask for it all the time. Trouble is, I ran out and haven’t yet been back to Texas. When I get there, I know where I’ll head – straight to Buffalo Gap for a meal, but not before I make reservations. Seems odd to have to do this since Perini Ranch Steakhouse is located in Buffalo Gap where the population is 463.
But I am not the only one who has discovered the remarkable Tom Perini. So has Food Network, Rachel Ray, Southern Living, and Saveur. His food philosophy is simple: “food should look good, taste good, and you should be able to recognize it!” He also believes that a good steak only needs a little dry rub along with a mesquite fire of hot coals. So you don’t run out of rub, best to buy two. It’s that good! And check out nearby Abilene for a real cowboy town with culture.
The Taste of Green Chiles from Santa Fe, New Mexico: Sante Fe School of Cooking Green Chile Dip
The mildly pungent, earthy taste of green chile is incorporated in many dishes in New Mexico and has essentially become a defining regional ingredient. And nowhere is it as good as in Santa Fe. One of my favorites is fresh green chile mixed with breakfast eggs. Almost any restaurant in Santa Fe will have their version. For take-home, The Santa Fe School of Cooking has managed to incorporate this flavor in its wildly popular Green Chile Dip. Mix it with sour cream or yogurt for a delicious dip for chips and vegetables. While you are there be sure to sign up for one of the cooking classes, where you dine on the deliverables.
American-Grown Tea from Charleston, South Carolina: Charleston Tea Plantation
Few people are aware that the only tea plantation and garden in America is located in Charleston, South Carolina – on a rural and rustic island where the sandy soils and sub-tropical climate favor the cultivation of tea. Here is the home of the American Classic Tea.
The Charleston Tea Plantation is located in the heart of the Lowcountry on Wadmalaw Island, where the Camellia Sinensis plant is propagated on 127 acres of land. With over 320 varieties, the leaf is used for both black and green tea production. Take a Trolley Tour of the tea estate and learn how tea is made on the Factory Tour. Then help yourself to a complimentary glass of iced American Classic Tea. My favorite is the American Classic Plantation Peach.
Chesapeake Bay Seafood Seasoning from Baltimore, Maryland
Baltimore has long been a bustling harbor known for selling, processing and transporting seafood bounty from the Chesapeake Bay. So, it only makes sense that over 70 years ago, it was in Baltimore where OLD BAY was first concocted, by a German immigrant by the name of Gustav Brunn. He used a special blend of eighteen spices and herbs to produce a trademark zesty flavor that gives seafood the “kick” that many people from the Chesapeake, Gulf, and the South have come to enjoy alongside a mug of beer. Today, McCormick & Company markets the seasoning, having acquired it in 1990.
OLD BAY lovers like to add the distinctive flavor to almost anything: from crab and shrimp to corn-on-the-cob, pizza, pasta, chicken, and even salads. Popcorn and potato chips can also be flavored with OLD BAY.
Chances are you can find Old Bay in your local supermarket since about 50 million ounces were sold last year. Some of it even finds its way overseas. Still produced in Maryland in its original yellow and blue tin, it is the quintessential flavor for seafood lovers.