Our nation is full of great regional snacks, but in the South, snacking is a way of life, just like pickup trucks and calling Sprite "Coke". Below the Mason-Dixon, it's believed that if vegetables have to be eaten, they should be deep-fried. It's a place where a pure sugar candy's a midday snack. From chocolate-covered cookie sandwiches to the spiciest kettle-cooked chips, these are the snacks worth traveling South for.
MoonPie What it is: A layer of marshmallow sandwiched between two chocolate-covered graham cracker cookies What's the deal: Before fancy bakers got ahold of the s'more, folks in Chattanooga, TN took the campfire snack in the opposite direction and made it even more down-home. The original double-decker cookie was created for Appalachian miners who didn't have enough time for a full lunch break. This was clearly a better time to be snacking if chocolate and marshmallow were considered the answer to a workforce's lunch needs. Except for the whole black lung thing.
RC Cola What it is: A cola-flavored soda from Columbus, GA What's the deal: Fittingly, Georgia's other soda was created after a bitter fight over the price of Coca-Cola syrup. It played an important role as the other half of coal miners' MoonPie lunches, ensuring the Appalachian workforce was as healthy as could be. It's available everywhere, but in the South it thrives.
Roman Candy What it is: A pulled taffy native to New Orleans What's the deal: While Atlantic City is stuck peddling its saltwater taffy, New Orleans gets to sell ocean water-free taffy from a horse-drawn carriage and remind America why it's the better taffy/casino city. Roman Candy Co. has been making and selling chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla taffy by the stick from this old-timey contraption since 1915, and the price is actually the $.75 painted on its side.
Wickles What they are: A brand of spicy pickles from a tiny company in Dadeville, AL What's the deal: Seattle and Brooklyn may have pickle storefronts, but Trey and Will Sims' 70yr-old family pickle recipe has the lockdown on pickle-curious tastebuds in 'Bama. The secret formula for the "wickedly delicious" pickle combines all the usual ingredients -- vinegar, garlic, and sugar -- with some mysterious spices for a truly uncool cucumber.
Boiled peanuts What they are: Green peanuts boiled in heavily salted water What's the deal: Raw peanuts are thrown into heavily salted water and boiled for hours until the shells become incredibly soft. The regular version's super salty, while Cajun nuts have a healthy dose of Tony Chachere's (the South's answer to Old Bay) added to the mix. At roadside stands and gas stations throughout the Southeast, you can pick up a bag of boiled peanuts along with your cheap lager... and for once the peanuts taste better than that beer.
Pimento Cheese What it is: A spread of mayonnaise, shredded sharp cheddar cheese, and pimento peppers What's the deal: Upping the lunchtime health-rating just barely over the MoonPie, the spread first showed up between slices of white bread at Southern tea time and as factory workers' lunches in the early 20th century. Today, it's usually served with Ritz or saltines. Sliced green onions and a favorite hot sauce are often stirred into the mix.
Chitlins What they are: Pig intestine that's stewed for hours and deep-fried What's the deal: First, the chitterlings are cleaned very, very carefully... because, you know, they've been places and seen things nobody wants to see. Then, miraculously, they're re-named chitlins as they're boiled. Once the intestine is tender, it's battered, deep-fried, and served with hot sauce before it goes on to see more things nobody wants to see inside of you.
Fried green tomatoes What they are: Unripe tomatoes, coated in an egg or water wash, dipped in cornmeal, and fried What's the deal: Because they're unripe, green tomatoes are firmer than the standard red ones, which means a trip to the deep fryer, where they cook while you think of a good Kathy Bates joke. The crispy discs improve a midday BLT drastically, but are just as good covered in hot sauce.
Cheese straws What they are: A batter of cheese, flour, and butter pushed through a cookie press and baked What's the deal: These wavy, orange treats are unique to every Southern cook, meaning you'll get a different variation at every cocktail party you go to. Basically, they look like something you'd make out of Play-Doh, but with their crunchy texture and unique spice blends, they somehow taste better.
Fried okra What is is: Sliced okra that's been battered and deep-fried What's the deal: In case you were under the misconception that unripe tomatoes are the sole veggie beneficiary of Southern-fried goodness, okra is here to fix things. The vegetable is chopped into small bites and takes a nice roll in a peppery batter before hitting the oil. The result is a crispy, spicy, poppable treat that makes veggies delicious by cutting out most of their nutritional value.
Hushpuppies What they are: Deep-fried balls of cornmeal, flour, milk, sugar, onion, and egg What's the deal: These dense balls of dough were supposedly created by hunters to shut their dogs up -- because in the South, even the dogs prefer their food deep-fried. The crispy balls of batter are served as sides for barbecue or fried fish, which preferably comes from the gulf and not a drive-thru combination Long John Silver's/A&W.
Fried pickles What they are: Battered and deep-fried pickle spears or slices What's the deal: What chicken and waffles do for sweet-and-savory, fried pickles manage for the odder combo of salt and vinegar. In an attempt to toss even more flavors into the basket, the battered pickles -- sometimes called "frickles", because why not -- are served with ranch dressing.
Divinity What it is: A candy made of egg white, corn syrup, sugar, and pecans What's the deal: This intensely sugary confection can only be made in humidity less-than 50% (it's a problem in the South). Pecans help to cut the near-overwhelming sweetness of the airy, meringue-like candy, for which family recipes are guarded more fiercely than a farmer's daughter.
Zapp's Chips What they are: Kettle-cooked chips from Louisiana What's the deal: The Zapp's company was bought in 2011 by Utz, so the Southern chip's availability has slowly spread outside the Gulf states. But its New Orleans heritage cannot be denied with flavors like "Spicy Cajun Crawtators" and "Voodoo".
Goo Goo Cluster What it is: A milk chocolate, caramel, peanut, and marshmallow nougat candy What's the deal: Snagging the title of "The Original Southern Confection" (it's been available since 1912), it's basically a pocket-sized Snickers, but with a little mandolin and John Rzeznik marshmallow nougat thrown in for good measure and a round, lumpy shape that foreshadows what you'll look like once you eat too many.
Peanuts and Coke What it is: A bottle of Coke with salted, roasted peanuts added What's the deal: Peanuts and Coke are the other perfect marriage of Southern treats, although this combination takes it to the next level. After drinking enough Coke to make room in the bottle, a handful of salty nuts are added to the bottle. Like the 1920s version of the Grilled Stuft Nacho, this leaves snackers free to smoke or, you know, sprint away from the barn after you laid hands on the farmer's daughter.
Liz Childers is a food/drink editorial assistant at Thrillist. She prefers her vegetables with bacon fat, her chicken fried, and her ramen with a bowl of extra chili paste. Follow her @lizchilders1.