Cuisine Spotlight: Southern Soul Food
You could be forgiven for thinking that American national cuisine primarily consists of burgers, hot dogs, fries and doughnuts and to some extent, you’d be right. But delve deeper in to the different regions of America and you start to find a huge amount of rich culinary variation. Nowhere is this more in evidence that in the American south, so as part of our Cuisine Spotlight series, we thought we’d take a more in-depth look at southern cuisine.
In the past year, southern cuisine has started to take off in Britain. As this article in The Huffington Post points out, pulled pork, chicken wings and ribs are on the rise on British menus, as is southern terminology such as ‘slaw’, ‘gumbo’ and ‘black and blue steak.’ Where once this was food confined to American movies, now it’s crossed over to our shores and on to our menus. But what exactly is southern food and what does all the terminology mean?
What is Southern Cuisine?
Probably more than any other region in the States, the cuisine of the south reflects America’s tumultuous history and diverse geography. Traditionally, southern cuisine is found south of the Mason-Dixon line, a cultural boundary which historically divided the American north-east and south. The food of the south therefore originates from a huge area that incorporates the coastal states of Virginia, North and South Carolina, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi as well as the huge farming states of Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Kentucky.
There are a number of influences on southern cuisine including English, German, French, Native American and African-American cooking. The African-American influence is particularly in evidence with ‘soul food’, a type of southern cooking that originates from the time of slavery when black slaves were forced to make recipes out of the leftovers and waste food from plantations.
Traditional Southern Dishes
Fried chicken is probably the most obvious staple of southern American cuisine and its most famous export too. It has its origins in the country kitchens of the deep south and is often eaten alongside potatoes or corn bread and green vegetables. Stews and soups are still hugely popular in the south and over a dozen are said to have originated in the area. Favourites include the Brunswick stew (a tomato-based stew originating from Virginia) and gumbo (a thick Louisiana soup).
Due to several southern states being on the coast, seafood is common in southern cuisine with crawfish, shrimp and crab being a staple ingredient in many dishes.
Buttermilk biscuits are a good all-round dish and snack. They work as both a sweet and savoury snack and can be eaten with everything from butter and jam to gravy. They can be eaten for breakfast too alongside grits, which is similar to porridge.
Dessert-wise, pies remain a southern symbol, with ever-popular pies like Key Lime Pie, Pecan Pie, Sweet Potato Pie and Mississippi Mud Pie regularly adorning dinner tables all over the south.
A traditional southern drink is a mint julip, a bourban-based cocktail. Bourban is in fact popular all over the south as it originates from Kentucky.
Whisky hails from Tennennessee of course (think Jack Daniels and George Dickel) and so is firmly ingrained in southern consciousness. Sweet tea (served with ice, lemon and sugar), ginger ale and cream soda are favoured drinks to help you cool off from the scorching southern heat.
Barbecuing is a huge part of the culture of the south, so much so that the area has garnered the nickname the ‘barbecue belt’. Deep-pit barbecuing is a common cooking method obtained from Native American methods of cooking. Pulled pork stems from this method which involves slowly barbecuing a shoulder cut until it is tender.
There’s also several styles of cuisine within southern cuisine itself. This includes :-
Cajun Cuisine – a unique ‘downhome’ style of cooking that comes out of Cajun country which lies in south-west Louisiana. The Cajuns were French immigrants that landed in Lousiana after being expelled from Canada. They combined French methods of cooking with exotic local ingredients to come up with unique dishes such as gumbo (a thick soup), boudin (a type of sausage) and jambalaya (a rice dish similar to paella).
Creole Cuisine – A refined style of cooking that emerged from the wealthy class in New Orleans. Creole cooking uses local seafood, meat, game, herbs, spices and other produce which, together with French and Spanish cooking methods, has produced a highly original and sophisticated cuisine. Crawfish bisque, gumbo and pecan pie are all typical creole dishes.
Y’all wanna find some southern food on hungryhouse?
There’s much southern inspired food to be found on hungryhouse. If you’re in South London, for example, why not get a taste of the deep south by ordering the Louisiana Pizza from Soni’s Pizza in Wandsworth. Sticky Fingers in Kensington has a whole host of southern-style dishes including pulled pork sandwiches, Tennessee bourbon glazed ribs, corn on the cob and caesar salad with cajun shrimp. If you’re in Manchester and have a sweet tooth then Cake Away has many a-southern style dessert including key lime pie, mississippi mud pie and pecan pie. Also, on the southern dessert tip, American Pizza in Kentish Town in North London does an excellent tennessee toffee pie. Fried chicken is of course ubiquitous being the South’s greatest export. There’s hundreds of fried chicken restaurants on hungryhouse so you shouldn’t have any difficulty satisfying that fried chicken wherever you are. There’s plenty of local Dixy Chicken branches throughout, but if you’re in Leeds though, then check out Chicko’s which has a mean selection of southern fried chicken and burgers.
by Jessie Brown
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