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The Culture of Southern Food

With so many different cuisines across the country, pinpointing a person’s favorite can be difficult, if not impossible. Each one is steeped in its own traditions, ingredients, recipes, history and culture, making them interesting and appealing in all kinds of different ways. One particular cuisine that is especially popular around the world is Southern food. Often seen as “comfort food,” Southern food is a massive category that encompasses all kinds of mouthwatering dishes.

Where did Southern food get its beginnings? What is the true culture of Southern food, and how can you spot authentic dishes and really learn to appreciate the cuisine? We’re taking an in-depth look at all things Southern food-related, so let’s dive right in.

Its Origins May Surprise You

As you start to question where Southern food actually began, its origins may come as a surprise. Did you know that there are a number of cultures that have contributed to what we now know as Southern food? At its very core, Southern food is meant to use a combination of imported and local ingredients stemming from whatever was cost-effective and easy to access.

If you’re looking to trace the roots of fried chicken, for example, then you’ll find that it began in Scotland and Africa. When Scottish immigrants started to arrive in the South of the country, they brought with them the tradition of frying chicken in some sort of fat. At the same time, African slaves who were already in the country had also brought the tradition of frying food in general—not just chicken.

This trend to fry food of all types continued and really started the Southern food movement here in the United States.

Notable Ingredients Used

You can break things down further by taking a close look at the ingredients themselves. Some of the staple ingredients in Southern cooking include black-eyed peas, okra, collards and turnips. The black-eyed peas and okra actually came from Africa—an imported ingredient.

Then there are the local ingredients that come from the ocean, rivers, lakes and tidal pools that also play a huge role in the cuisine. Again, it’s all about ingredients that are easily accessible and often cost-effective. This includes crawfish, oysters, crab and catfish. As for meat, chicken and pork each play a huge role in recipes, as well as local game like squirrel, rabbit and opossum. In fact, if you ask people what the most recognizable Southern dish is, they are likely to say Southern fried chicken.

Let’s Not Forget Beverages

While there is a lot of focus on the foods that make up Southern cuisine, there are some notable beverages that are also part of the movement. Sweet tea is probably one of the most popular drinks in the South and is the kind of beverage that can be enjoyed pretty much any time. In order to make real authentic sweet tea, you’ll need to steep black tea, chill it and then serve it cold. The sugar should be added while the tea is still hot so that it creates an almost syrup-like consistency and is evenly distributed.

Another extremely popular beverage is bourbon, which can be enjoyed straight or used in a multitude of recipes. The South, and especially cities like New Orleans, Atlanta and Charleston, have become known for their cocktails, while Kentucky is home to the Bourbon Trail.

A Cuisine that Can Appeal to Anyone

Part of what makes Southern food so popular is the fact that it appeals to anyone and everyone. Family gatherings around a big table filled with Southern food are what many have come to expect, but it’s not just about big gatherings. Because it’s often referred to as “comfort food,” anyone can appreciate it any time. If you are a single person, you must check these meal options out—no need to wait for a big dinner event to indulge in some Southern cooking.

Check Out the History Firsthand

If you want a more in-depth look at Southern food and drinks, where they got their beginnings, and how this cuisine has become such a huge movement, then you can visit the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans. The museum offers demonstrations, exhibits, lectures, a cookbook library and even tastings that highlight all there is to know about Southern cooking.

This 10,000-square-foot museum is meant to give food lovers a place to learn and appreciate more about their passion, and it is constantly hosting special events and exhibits worth checking out. The location was new in 2014, giving the museum more space than ever to spread out.

You can also check out our article on the origins of Southern cuisine.

A Rich History

As you start to dig deeper into the culture of Southern food, it becomes clear that its history is rich and dates back hundreds of years. With so many different dishes and ingredients used, it’s no wonder it is one of the most popular cuisines in the country.

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