Monday, July 21, 2014

Epiphany #48: Road Food

Most people have their favorite road snacks, don't they?  I'm talking about those strange food that we would never buy to eat in our homes, but, for some reason, they always call to us when we are on the road.

And these are no gourmet snacks to be sure.  These are cheap, processed foods, likely disgusting to at least one person if you are traveling with a group.

I've got a couple of old favorites and a new one:

Orange Slices--these jellyish, gelatinous pre-shaped, dyed orange, and rolled-in-sugar treats usually come in a bag for a dollar or less.  If you see a package of these with the words "contains real fruit juice," don't be tricked.  These are not the droids you're looking for.  Anything natural only ruins them.  They are best if you can get them a bit old, a bit stale, because then they have more tug and substance.  They don't need to be gooey at all.

Circus Peanuts--certainly one of the strangest candies around, Circus Peanuts are indeed shaped like a peanut, also dyed orange, and yet are bursting with fake banana flavor.  They are light, a bit sea foamy, and also IMHO best served stale. How shape, color, and taste were meant to complement each other, I cannot fathom.  Get a bag of these super cheapies and offer one to someone else and they are likely to recoil.  But if you are in the club, ripping open a bag of these and inhaling that chemical banana aroma lets you know that you are in highway heaven.

Corn Nuts--I am new to Corn Nuts, only a couple of years in.  Another "shaped" snack, these look like enlarged, toasted corn kernels, which is pretty much what they taste like too, a kind of break-your-tooth cousin to Fritos.  I'd like to be able to call these savory, but really, they are just salty.  When you start on a bag,you are tempted to suck the salt off and spit them out.  But once they work their saline magic on you, you want to crunch them.  You may not want to eat them, exactly, but you do want to crunch them.  Rarely does a bag of Corn Nuts lie unfinished in the upholder between two travelers.  I imagine they do for a driver what sunflower seeds do for a baseball player.

Perhaps a few other connections about these "foods."  One, they are all corn-based, which is not surprising given how corn has insinuated itself into most everything we put in our mouths.  Two, you can't always find them in a "real" food store.  They survive in the least common dominator shelves of seedy, off -brand foodstuffs in convenience stores and gas stations.

But here's the funny thing: foul though these comestibles may be, if you get hooked on them, you start to judge places based on whether or not they stock these empty calories.  "I can't believe they don't have Corn Nuts!" is a common utterance in my family as we gather in a road store after our various trips to the bathroom.

We hit pay dirt yesterday in a convenience store outside of Naples, Florida--four different kinds of Corn Nuts, including Original, Ranch, BBQ (as featured in the film, Heathers) and some kind of caliente aka HOT version.  Being he traditionalist, I grabbed a bag of the original flavor aka SALT.  I also dropped another $.50 on some Circus Peanuts, but even among my offspring, I could find no takers.

What is your favorite road junk?


Billy said...

Just the words "circus peanuts" creates a psychological wormhole for me. I can flash back to that moment, in the mid-'80s, when I actually tried them. The texture. The taste. Everything about those things is just nasty.

Still, I learned in school that the best way to keep others from ganking your snacks is to like stuff no one else did. So, in that sense, circus peanuts are great. Bully for you for liking them...

Anonymous said...

Alexander the Grapes.

troutking said...

My only experience with Circus Peanuts is seeing unopened bags of them layered among the other junk in John Bud Yo Strang's car. They must be bad if even he couldn't give them away.

Road food--cheetos. Never eat them at home, but especially love the spicy ones on the road because your mouth is burning so much, you can't possibly fall asleep at the wheel!

Kath said...