For those of us in the States, peanut butter is a fact of life. It’s good on virtually anything, and especially in combination with chocolate or jam. But for the rest of the world, it’s a bit weird — and therefore hard to come by.
Whenever I visit my grandmother in China, I haul loads of peanut butter and various chocolates with me on the plane. She makes peanut sauces with the Skippy’s and gifts little baggies of truffles to her neighbors. In college, while studying abroad in Denmark, my peanut-butter withdrawal was so intense that I must’ve scoured every supermarket in Copenhagen on a hunt for a local alternative. (Eventually I found it, but it was just… wrong.)
I wasn’t alone in my obsession: When another student shared her stash of peanut-butter chocolate bars mailed from the U.S., our entire class devolved into a euphoric frenzy, quickly relapsing into our peanut-butter–pounding American ways. “Praise the lord,” we moaned, as we shoveled peanut-butter cups into our mouths.
Our Danish cohorts didn’t quite get it. But they had their own time-honored snack combinations to love — like pickled herring and buttered rye. Other places, too, are home to popular and unique snack combinations that complement each other perfectly but seem strange to Americans. But what exactly are they? Here’s a small survey:
The first time I heard an Australian mention a “vegemite-and-cheese sanga,” I thought “cheese sanga” was some type of exotic delicacy. (It’s actually the Aussie term for “sandwich.”) Vegemite, meanwhile, is that infamously salty brown spread made from leftover brewers’ yeast extract — totally normal in Australia and totally weird and hard to find elsewhere. It gets along with cheese swimmingly, or so I’m told.
Like commercial peanut butter, red-bean paste is the result of blending legumes with sugar. The sweet, smooth paste, which is made from adzuki beans, is eaten with virtually every starch available in China. You’ll find it stuffed in starchy confections like mooncakes, sticky rice, mochi sticks, steamed buns, baked breads, and so much more. (My personal favorite: glutinous rice balls.)
Halloumi (or hellim) — that delicious, briny, semi-hard cheese — originated on Cyprus. It’s often eaten grilled or fried, cubed in salads, and as a small plate in Middle Eastern meze platters. Cypriots took halloumi’s potential to its true heights, though, by pairing it with sweet, crisp watermelon. The combination spread through the entire Levant and remains popular during summer months.
Various tropical fruits, like pomelos and papayas, and especially green mangoes, are eaten with fermented shrimp paste in the Philippines. The savory condiment is called bagoong, and it’s made by fermenting krill or fish with plenty of salt. For those who aren’t ready to dip their toes into full-on fruit-with-shrimp-paste, tropical fruit with salt and vinegar is another popular Filipino snack.
Many places around the world have their own versions of fried dough, and it’s typically a sweet confection. South Africa’s vektoek — which literally means “fat cake” in Afrikaans — is a fried dough that’s usually served with jam or syrup, but can also be stuffed with minced beef. The mince is usually curried, and you’ll find the snack at local eateries, festivals, and food stalls.
Bocadillo con queso, AKA cubes of guava paste with chunks of fresh cheese, is usually served as an appetizer or dessert. The guava paste is made by cooking guava pulp with sugar until the consistency of the mixture thickens into a solid; as such, it’s sold pre-made, in blocks. Even better: eating the combination in empanada form.
Eggs... on other eggs. It’s a thing in Sweden, and it’s eaten in typical Scandinavian open-faced sandwich fashion. More accurately, it’s slices of hard-boiled eggs with a generous squeeze of creamy roe on top, usually served on Swedish crispbread. (Hint: You can get both the roe spread and crispbread at IKEA.) It’s called “Ägg och kaviarmacka” if you want to get technical.
Along with making your way through all of the above, give some more love to the classics you already know: Try Nature Valley Granola Cups. The creamy, crunchy snacks are a new way to indulge in the quintessential combination of peanut butter and chocolate. Discovering amazing new snack combinations is bomb — but so is enjoying a new twist on an old favorite.
Angela Wang is a Senior Writer for Studio@Gizmodo.