America’s greatest culinary joys are regional, and understanding the character of different parts of the country is often as simple as tasting their most beloved local specialties, from pizza to BBQ, and cheesecake to cherry pie.

My father has taught me a few things over the years, many unsettling. But one of his most successful parenting moves was excellent use of the care package—each designed to introduce my brother and I to a foodstuff not regularly available in our home state of Connecticut. Once, we received 40 dozen tamales having never once seen masa in our lives. We also ate Turduckens before they became a “Man vs. Food” event. The epic scale of the gifts revealed a very simple message: Nothing replaces experiencing a proper regional delicacy from the source.

Twenty years ago, the idea of shipping ribs from Memphis to Hartford was a wild idea. Today, a laundry list of family-owned restaurants and bakeries are hip to the game. That reality breeds a whole new generation of arm-chair traveler, where you can actually get a taste of what you’re missing out on.

Ultimately, mail-order specialties allow for culinary excursions regardless of one’s ability to hit the road. Those selected here are the most successful in imparting the distinct flavor of the areas from which they come.

Written by Nick Schonberger (@nschon)