>  E44 – The Evolution of Road Trip Food: From Hardtack to Cheesy Pretzels
The Roaming Yeti
The Roaming Yeti
E44 - The Evolution of Road Trip Food: From Hardtack to Cheesy Pretzels

Join me as we embark on a mouthwatering journey through time, exploring the fascinating history of road trip food. From hardtack and canned fruits to drive-in diners and social media discoveries, discover the evolution of flavors that have shaped our road trip experiences.

In this episode, we will:

  • Discover the fascinating history behind your favorite road trip foods and how they have evolved over time.
  • Explore the impact of technology on road trip food and uncover innovative ways to enhance your dining experience on the go.
  • Learn how food documentaries have influenced the way we approach road trip dining, inspiring us to seek out diverse and authentic culinary experiences.
  • Uncover the role of social media in changing the landscape of road trip food, from finding hidden gems to discovering trending foodie destinations.
  • Gain insights into the regional delicacies and must-try dishes that will take your road trip adventures to the next level


Beth 0:08
Welcome to the roaming Yeti podcast where we share travel stories full of nostalgia, interest in locations and the tales behind those locations. I am your host and head Yeti Beth Schillaci. Whenever I think about a road trip, I also tend to think about the food involved. This is one reason I like asking roaming Yeti guests what their favorite road trip food is. But I have to say when I think about road trip foods, I tend to just think about those food items I pack in the car or I grab at a gas station to give me a little energy till we reach our destination. I knew there was much more to it. And so I sent our favorite Yeti Addy out to research and report on the history of road trip food. Based on the field notes that she left on my desk. I would say she had something was some cheese dust on a little Cheeto. Some kind of situation like that, because there’s orange fingerprints everywhere. Oh, well, we’ll figure it out. Are you ready? Are you ready to dig into roadtrip food? Let’s Roam. As soon as I discovered from going through at ease field notes that road trip food isn’t just about satisfying hunger. It’s also about enhancing the overall travel experience. And, you know, it adds that element of adventure to the journey I tend to think destination with road trip and I need to adjust that, that it’s really the journey and how can we enhance that adventure. And you know, we we thought it was just throwing some beef jerky in the car and heading off but But there’s more. So let’s dig into the history of roadtrip food shall we? So imagine you’re traveling in the 19th century, you’re on a road trip and you’re hungry, what are you going to eat? Well, back then really the food was it was about simple, hearty and anything portable, so travelers had to be resourceful and even creative in order to feed themselves on their journeys. Now some of the most common roadtrip few foods in the 19th century included hardtack, which was a hard drive biscuit that was made from flour, water and salt and it was easy to store and transport. And it could last for months without spoiling. There was also salt Park, which is is cured in salt to preserve it and it would be eaten on its own or cooked with other other ingredients. Dried beans provided a great source of protein and fiber, and they can be cooked with water or that salt pork to really make a hearty meal. Coffee was a popular beverage for Roadtrippers. It was easy to make and it could help to stay alert on long drives. I guess not. Some things haven’t changed much. Still like a coffee for the drive.

Beth 3:03
Here’s a here’s one that doesn’t work today. Whiskey whiskey was also a popular beverage for brewed Roadtrippers and it can be used to warm up on cold nights or to medicate minor ailments. Yeah, definitely better for after you’re driving for the day. And also they might have stopped a taverns or farmhouses along the way to purchase some meals. Now, as we move into the 20th century, roadtrip food was shaped by the growing ultimate automobile culture, the construction of highways and this increasing desire for adventure and exploration. So let’s take a little trip look at what road trip food looks like them. In the 1900s and the 1910s. You know, road trips were more of an adventure into the unknown, didn’t have all the information we had and travelers often brought their own food and meals, and it consisted of simple and portable items like sandwiches, hard boiled eggs and fruit. picnicking by roadside was a common way to enjoy their meals during road trips and family packed families packed picnic baskets with sandwiches fresh produce and baked goods. And there were rest areas and parks that became popular stops for these picnics. There was also this introduction of travel guides and cookbooks for motorist. They provided tips and recipes for road trip males and these guides often included advice on packing provisions and planning for picnics. Gotta see if I can get a hold of one of these old travel guides. It’s now on my one to find list for sure. Road trip food in the earliest early 20th century was like I said it was relatively simple but it was starting to get become more convenient and accessible to travelers. So road trip food in the night The 20s and 30s again continued to evolve as auto culture evolved, the 20s brought the construction and popularization of route 66 known as the main street of America. And this famous highway would later become iconic for road trips, and the diners and food stops along this route. But other things going on in the 20s were picnicking similar to the previous road trips involved a lot of picnicking by the roadside. This one was really interesting. thermos bottles became widely used to keep your beverages hot, such as coffee and hot chocolate. And they would also carry soup and broth. And another thing that became popular was canned food, canned fruits, and vegetables, and even meats were convenient roadtrip meals, and canned soups and beans and fish were also among the staples used in the 1920s auto camps or motor camps became popular. Now these were places where travelers could park their cars set up camp and cook meals over open fires. camping food was simple and often included the canned goods that we talked about and other campfire cooking. Now often to travelers would stop at small country stores and local eateries along the way to purchase fresh produce dairy and baked goods, probably on their way to to the picnic in places. Now, as we move into the 1930s, we discover a few more developments. You know, as we know that 30s were marked by the Great Depression, which had a significant impact on travel and roadtrip food. Many people had tight budgets and had to make do with simple and affordable meals. Also in the 1930s, route 66 continued to develop. And it provided travelers with more accessible and improved dining options. Auto mats, automat restaurants were really popular during the 1930s. And these are those self service eateries where customers could select hot dishes and baked goods from vending machine style windows. I actually remember these from a hospital where I grew up that we you know, we would go over and visit and getting the food from those I have very vivid memories of the auto mats. So I was surprised that they were so popular in the 1930s. In addition, diners were gaining popularity in the 1920s. And that continued into the 30s as well. You know your hamburgers or hotdogs, meatloaf, all these foods were available. And in addition to stopping and eating the places where some travelers were purchasing, boxed lunches or lunch pails for their road trips, these meals typically included sandwiches, fruit and a drink, you know, think of the original value meal or combo meal there in the 1930s. And travelers were stopping a family farms and markets to buy produce and supporting local agriculture. And, you know, again, we had these homemade snacks that families were making cookies, fruit preserves and drying their own fruits. And these dried fruits came from the techniques of home canning and food preservation that became really common during the 1930s. It enabled families to keep their food longer and bring those items onto the road trips. So these decades really laid the foundation for the culture of road trips, emphasizing self sufficiency and reliance on simple homemade and easily transportable food. And road trip food during this period really reflected some of those economic constraints. But But these people still had that spirit of adventure and exploration so that so they made it work. Now, we move into the post war economic boom that really influenced roadtrip food in the 1950s and 60s. You know, this was the rise of the automobile culture, the emergence of the American diner and even fast food chains. In the 50s, the we saw the proliferation of drive in restaurants and these were characterized by car hops that came out to your car, took your order and served your mood, your meals directly to you. And these were really popular places to grab a meal on the road. They often featured hamburgers, hot dogs and milkshakes. Diners again, they were really like the hitting it on all cylinders in 1950s.

Beth 9:53
They were all day diners. Some had really hearty breakfast is for those early morning Travelers out there. And in addition to those driving restaurants in the diners, this is when we saw fast food. The 1950s witnessed the birth of fast food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King and these chains, chains introduced the concept of quick and consistent dining experiences. And they really paved the way for the fast food culture that would dominate in the following decades. Fried chicken this is when you know Kentucky Fried Chicken gained popularity in the 50s portable buckets of fried chicken, I mean, that’s the convenient roadtrip meal. And in addition to these food, like there were more and more roadside motels that were featuring and they had on site, restaurants and coffee shops and that, you know, gave sort of people opportunity to rest and fuel up. Of course, you know, thinking of shits Creek I think of like the Rosebud motel of in the 90s what it would have been in the 1950s in its glory, I’m sure serving people and the picnic culture again the the picnics were still going on. There were scenic rest stops and parks to enjoy all that food that they picked up at diners, drive ins and, and you know the Kentucky Fried Chicken. So people were still you know, wanting to eat outside and enjoy the view as well. Now, as we move into the 60s, we saw again, the expansion of fast food chains, more and more locations, different kinds of foods, you know, they could count on finding familiar items and consistency in their meals. I mean, that’s really that’s really the thing about fast food, you know what you’re gonna get coffee shops were a common sight along highways in the 1960s they offered hearty breakfast is and classic diner fare. You could enjoy eggs, bacon pancakes, Man, I’m really making myself hungry right now. And in the 60s, again, the automatic while they were having they were sort of in the decline. They were still in operation in the 60s. And you know, people were still using them. If you’re a Marvel fan, and your watch loci you know that Mobius is a fan of the Ottoman at the TVA, he likes to get his key lime pie. So it’s, you know, they they were on the decline, but they were still being used by people. Regional favorites, people began to experience different regions in the country and they realized that they had their own unique road food, roadtrip Food Specialties. So people were getting a little more adventurous they were breaking out from the the consistency and the known food and try and regional favorites like in the Midwest, hot dish, casseroles in the south biscuits and gravy. And also the 1960s marked a period of increased food advertising on television and billboards. So fast food chains and restaurants were heavily marketing, they’re offering offerings and contributing to the popularity of their their items. And in addition to all these convenience stores, here come my convenience stores, they began to emerge a name for offering travelers, you know, quick snacks, beverages, pre made prepackaged sandwiches, and so forth. And even the design of cars in the 1960s were conducive to to the roadtrip food because they often had fold down tables so that travelers could you know, enjoy their meal right there in the vehicle. So the 50s and 60s really reflected a cultural shift towards a car centric travel and the desire for quick affordable and family dining options. And road trip during this food was characteristic of you know, the evolving dining landscape in the US. Now as we keep moving forward roadtrip food in the 70s through the 80s was again influenced by evolving cultural trends, the expansion of the fast food industry and the increasing diversity of culinary choices. So here’s what you know roadtrip foods sort of looked like during those in the 70s we witnessed the continued expansion of fast food chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, and even Taco Bell. And these again, they provided that convenient affordable dining options. drive throughs became more prevalent so you didn’t even have to go into your fast food restaurants. Take a drive thru and just keep keep on the road for Trucks and street foods in some cities began offering diverse options for on the go dining. And then in the 1980s, again, fast food, I mean, it’s still there, it’s still, it’s still dominating. But the drive throughs. And the standardized menus just really made it easy to find that familiar meal convenience stores, we had travelers increasingly relying on convenience stores like 711 for quick snacks, beverages, and the gourmet burger. This is so interesting to me in the 1980s. This is sort of the emergence of gourmet burger joints. And they offered customizable upscale burger options. So these sorts of started, you know, competing with those fast food familiar, consistent burgers. And also we had family style restaurants like Denny’s and IHOP and they became popular for their all day breakfast. And again, very convenient, stops for road Roadtrippers. Now, road trip food in the 2000s sort of blended traditional favorites with emerging culinary trends and it was the decade sort of characterized by growing interest in health conscious eating, convenience and you know, more diverse flavors. So here’s some some of the key aspects. Again, fast food, still dominant, always going to be along with the drive thru. But it became even drive thru became even more convenient because we sort of had that introduction of mobile ordering and payment options. It was just a faster, quicker, easier to do. We saw coffee called Coffee Culture saw significant growth during this decade. This was Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts becoming a more popular and everywhere you know, you could get your caffeine fix and a snack and hit the road. The 2000s also we witnessed an increase in demand for healthier fast food options, many chains, introduced salads, grilled items, and low calorie choices to cater to health conscious consumers. And we also saw in addition to the fast food we saw subway and other sandwich chains gained popularity, as what we thought then was a relatively healthier and customizable alternative. Again, food truck momentum. In the 2000s we see that even more popular now. Convenience Stores got wider selections, there were more of them. And then there was this emerging international cuisine. So diners showed an increased interest in global and ethnic foods such as Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, and even sushi became widely available at the restaurants and in places on the road. And when we talked about fast food, we sort of retired I was you know, McDonald’s, Burger King Taco Bell, they’re sort of everywhere throughout the US. But there was this regional fast food chains were gaining recognitions that travelers sawed out these places. For example, in the West, In and Out Burger and water burger, what a burger in the south. So you know, you had both your national food, fast food and then your regional that people sort of sought out when they were in those areas. In addition, energy bars and healthier snacks like granola bars, yogurt and fruit cups became popular roadtrip options. And the 2000s also saw an increase in food allergen awareness. So this led to a lot more food labeling, and options for people with dietary restrictions, which helped them have safer food choices for sure. And the rise of smartphones and GPS technology really made it easier for travelers to find nearby restaurants plan their stops and read reviews, which led them to more informed choices and maybe could find things a little off the you know, the regular path and, and be a little more adventurous and also food challenges. The 2000 saw the emergence of food challenges where diners would attempt to consume large quantities of food within a set time limit or really hot food. And so some travelers on the road trips would seek out these restaurants and you know, take on those challenges. And a lot of this was because of the food documentaries.

Beth 19:50
Man vs food diners, drive ins and dives. You know these really helped popular popularize a lot of these destinations for people. So, overall roadtrip food in the 20 2000s reflected a changing culinary landscape, with an emphasis again on convenience and health conscious choices, and an interest in diverse and regional flavors. And the rise of the foodie culture and social media has also encouraged Roadtrippers to seek out regional specialties, and photogenic Instagram worthy dishes during their journeys. So there’s a few ways that social media has really changed roadtrip food. First, it has made it easier for travelers to discover new and exciting food options, which is really cool. You know, we can use social media platforms, we can search for restaurants, we can look for food trips, food trucks along their route. And we can also read reviews, look at photos, and it really can help us decide where to eat. And second social media has made it easier for travelers to share their experiences in turn. So you’re reading and you’re finding out the information but you want to share your you’re posting pictures, you’re posting videos, and you’re giving recommendations. So it’s really created this community of roadtrip foodies, excuse me, you know, they can connect they can share their passion share tips, recommendations and photos and it’s really sort of cool because it’s it’s probably it’s given smaller restaurants and off the beaten path restaurants and food trucks you know this access to an audience they may not have had. So you know, for once overall social media has had a positive impact on on roadtrip food. And that really brings us to the conclusion at our history of roadtrip foods. So I would say we’ve come a long way since salt pork and hardtack thank goodness which which is gives us a lot more variety. And I realized after looking through these field notes that what I often consider a road trip is actually just traveling via car to a destination and getting food along the way or bringing it with us just to get us through that trip you know just to get us to the destination and definitely want to change that we have an upcoming trip that I hope to make the journey to the destination destination much more of an adventure a good adventure. No bad adventures please but I’m gonna try to do some strategic stops along the way to check out some some different kinds of food and things that we wouldn’t normally do. So what are my favorite go to road trip snacks right now um if I’m bringing something with us I like to bring like a chex mix or a trail mix. Of course I always need to bring something sweet usually cookies are a good thing. And for early morning departures I will have my Hydroflask full of coffee and ready to go now i will say i i have or two paths are driving the most these days are Rochester New York and Cincinnati, Ohio and they both have sheets gas stations along the way. sheets if you ever want to sponsor me let me know. I am a big fan. They have a cheese stuffed pretzel. And I love love love their milkshakes. We will often just grab milkshakes and get back on the road. So those are my favorite go to road trip snacks right now. I will update you after our adventure in December. So yeah, that that’s, that’s my go to right now. But I really hope that these episodes inspire you to get out there and roam even if it’s in your own neighborhood at your own, you know diner or sheets, go for it. So please subscribe so you don’t miss future episodes. And if you like what we’re doing here, please leave a review and a rating it means so much to us. And also to help support us please head to Yeti to to pick up some roaming Yeti merch will talk to you soon and keep roaming