As a teenager, a lot of my meals came from the vending machine. This isn’t a slight on my parents, but rather a reflection of where I spent most of my time. I was a teenage ballerina without a car, so during long days and nights of rehearsals there was only one always reliable option for me: the basement vending machines.
Every once in a while I’d luck out, and the carousel grab-and-go cooler would be stocked with sandwiches and fruit and frozen burritos (we did have a microwave in the dancer lounge). But more often than not, I was forced to cobble some sort of satisfying combo from one snack machine and one soda machine. Through years of methodical experimentation, I discovered some solid pairings that I still crave to this day.
This is not unlike pairing foods with wine or beer: You want to find flavors that complement each other but also unite in harmony in your mouth. My test as a kid, disgusting as it sounds, was always what I will very authoritatively call the Crunch and Swish Test. If you crunch down on a snack then take a sip of soda and swish the two together, is the taste a magical symphony of sweet and savory flavors? If so, the Crunch and Swish Test has been passed and you’re on your way to snacking euphoria. (Apologies to my dentist for all the trouble this method has caused both of us.)
The best part of this flavor bomb is that in most cases, you can get it on the cheap. There are so few moments of pleasure that can be attained with pocket change, so we gotta take them where we can get them.
Now that I’m an adult who quite honestly doesn’t find myself near as many vending machines as I used to, I’m indulging in these combinations less and less. But on the flip side, when the cravings really strike, I can load up on the ingredients in bulk at the grocery store and really bliss out.
After years of research, these are what came out on top:
- Snyder’s Pretzels and Pepsi. Yes, this has to be Pepsi, not Coke. The extra sugary syrup in Pepsi really highlights the salt on the pretzels.
- Cheez-Its and Cherry Coke. Again, yes, this has to be Cherry Coke, not Wild Cherry Pepsi—the bite in Coke brings out the cheddar in the crackers. This is like a kid’s version of a nice slice of cheese with a bold and fruity red wine.
- Planters Salted Peanuts and MTN DEW. Peanuts are practically a healthy snack, so it’s nice to balance that with the pure radioactive power of the DEW.
- Gardetto’s Original Recipe Snack Mix and Sprite. There’s already so much going on in that beloved snack mix that all you really need is a clean, crisp sip of clear soda to pair it with. While Sprite is superior, I will allow a Sierra Mist in the mix.
- Twizzlers and Sunkist. Sunkist is somehow the most natural tasting of all mass-produced orange sodas, and that bright citrus flavor cuts the gummy sweetness of the Twizzler. While the “crunch” and swish test doesn’t necessarily apply here, I highly recommend turning your Twizzler into a straw by biting off both ends and sticking it directly into the soda to enjoy.
Note: I don’t care for chocolate, but I bet there’s a delicious combo to be had with a pack of Oreos or bite-sized Famous Amos cookies. Let me know what other soda and snack combos are worth trying in the comments. Hopefully, you’ll never look at a vending machine the same way again.