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Trust Me, You Need a Pen Pal for Snacks

It’s the best way to share a taste of something new

Several colorful and small bags of chips sit in a grocery store display. Vikramvisu/Shutterstock

This post originally appeared in the September 21, 2020 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.

The first box was a surprise: An unexpected package arrived in the mail from my friend Courtney, untethered from any birthdays or holidays or attempts to revive the USPS. Courtney and I live on opposite coasts, but the contents of that box were even farther flung, a collection of small and colorful packets I’d never seen before. There were some familiar signs: the Lay’s logo, only now paired with the phrase “saveur poulet roti,” bars immediately identifiable as chocolate. But there were also totally new delights like a bag of airy fry-shaped crisps, mini madeleine cakes, and other items I’m surely forgetting now. She’d just returned from a trip to France, and the snacks were a surprise gift that she mailed once she arrived back home.

Back when traveling was a thing, supermarket snacks were undoubtedly a must-have souvenir. I’d always make a point to visit at least one grocery or convenience store during any trip, and then spend any leftover foreign cash on candy and junk food at airport stalls. But now, Courtney and I have an unspoken system going, an agreement over treat sharing when we’re privileged enough to escape. The move, basically, is to get yourself a friend to trade snacks with.

In the couple years since the first package, I’ve sent along packages filled with Japanese candies and gummies, and a box from a trip to Mexico right before COVID-19 shut everything down containing the local take on our favorite cheddar-and-sour-cream Ruffles, spicy corn chips, Oaxacan chocolate, and sour/spicy gummy straws. A box I received from her trip to India contained more Lay’s (in flavors like “Magic Masala” and “American Style Cream and Onion,” shamefully my favorite), plus cracker mixes and other spicy crunches that felt less familiar.

Other countries have, by and large, the better chip flavors, but you don’t really need to travel in order to share a taste of something new. Regional potato chips, for example, exist across the country; a New England-themed package, sent by Courtney after she first moved to that area, highlighted, naturally, Cape Cod chips. I’d happily send along my local Tim’s in exchange for the East Coast Herr’s of my childhood, Zapp’s from New Orleans, or Better Mades from Detroit, which I don’t think I’ve ever had. Maybe, during this time of no travel and peak snacking, I’ll start a chip-trading ring. It’s probably the best way right now to get a taste of somewhere new.

PS: Eater’s Snack Week was a full-fledged celebration of all things snacking. Catch up here.