To help you learn more about regional cuisine in the U.S. we are going to take a look at the southern region of the United States. The food in the American South is rich with cultural heritage and local flavors. Grits, anyone?
Regional cuisine of the American South conjures up images of American comfort food along with the influences of the ethnically diverse settlers in the region.
Creole- When in Louisiana, one must try Cajun and Creole cuisine. A hodgepodge of French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Greek, Asian Indian, Native American, and African characteristics, Creole cooking is characterized by variety of spices and strong peppers and seafood. Popular dishes include Gumbo-typically a thick shellfish stew, Red Jambalaya- a mixture of meat, vegetables (tomatoes), stock, seafood and rice stewed together. A popular dessert called King Cake is eaten around holidays and festivals such as Carnival and Mardi Gras, and looks like a colorful cinnamon roll and usually has a tiny plastic baby inside said to represent the baby Jesus. Whoever receives the piece with the baby inside is said to receive good luck.
Creole – A rustic cuisine, Cajun food was developed in Louisiana by French speaking immigrants from French Colonies in Canada. Usually served in pots, Cajun cuisine uses what is called the holy trinity- bell peppers, onions and celery. Crawfish is a popular ingredient, often offered at crawfish boils where large quantities of crawfish are boiled with spices and then heaped onto tables. Diners eat them with their bare hands with condiments – although extremely messy, it's a memorable eating event and a unique tradition. Other popular dishes include smoked meats, boudin sausages, Cajun Gumbo and Jambalaya.
Soul Food – a term that originated in the 1960's, Soul Food describes the cuisine developed in the southern United States by its African American population. This food is now popular all across the country and is also thought of as comfort food. It's high in fat, but extremely tasty. Popular dishes include chicken-fried steak, fried chicken, barbequed ribs, fried fish, shrimp, okra, collard greens, Johnny cakes, cornbread and hushpuppies.
BBQ- The south is famous for having the best barbecue in the world. While Texas style BBQ usually involves beef, most southern BBQ involves pork. Each state in the American South has its own style of BBQ with different sauces, dry rub seasonings and popular cuts of meat. There's no doubt that the folks in the south know their BBQ.
Old-fashioned southern cooking encompasses all of these different types of cooking but other famous dishes of the American South include:
- Pecan Pie- Pie made of corn syrup and pecans, a southern specialty
- Mississippi mud pie- gooey chocolate pie
- Red Velvet Cake- Popular in the south, this red cake is traditionally dyed red from beetroot juice with a cream cheese frosting
- Grits- Mostly a breakfast food and served cheesy, grits are made of coarsely ground corn and come from strong Native American influence.
- Georgia Peaches- The official state fruit of Georgia, they produce 130 million pounds a year!
- Florida Oranges- While most oranges in the U.S. come from Florida, they taste sweeter and juicier in the actual state!
- Chicken and Waffles- Fried chicken served with waffles
- Okra- An edible seed pod, this plant is slimy when cooked but is very popular fried and is also the main ingredient in Gumbo
- Bananas Foster- A dish of carmelized bananas and vanilla ice-cream, originated in New Orleans, Louisiana.
- Buttermilk Biscuits with Honey
- Catfish- A popular ingredient in Cajun cooking
- Chess pie- Cornmeal is the secret ingredient to this otherwise standard sugar pie
- Cornbread- Delicious dense bread made of cornmeal
- Cuban Cuisine- Miami hosts a large Cuban population; where there are Cuban people, there is authentic Cuban cuisine. A mixture of Spanish, African and Caribbean cooking a typical meal will consist of rice and beans, plantains, and some stewed meat and fish.
In our next blog post, the final stop on the tour will take us to the Northeastern region of the U.S., where we will get a taste of pickles, crab cakes and shoofly pie! If you can't guess where these foods are from, check back soon!
Did we miss your favorite regional food? Feel free to share your favorite foods that you've had while in the U.S. in the comments!
A fan of independent cinema and proponent of the Oxford comma, Matthew began his career at a Miami-based tech startup before returning to West Virginia University to pursue his M.A. in Foreign Languages. He has worked at InterExchange since 2006 and currently serves as a Marketing Project Manager.