Earlier this year, I shared 14 North Carolina food staples that I strongly recommend you trying. I’m back today with the second part of this mini-series to talk about the best Southern food staples that you should also try. When writing this post, I dug deeper into some of the history behind some of the staples that are credited to the South and learned quite a bit in the process. I have long been fascinated with the origin of dishes and their importance to regions. This article is a great read on colonization’s impacts on dishes and explores food cultural appropriation. Here are 7 of the best Southern food staples to try.
Best Southern Food: Top 7 Southern Staples to Try
Biscuits and Gravy
Photo from Taste & Tell
It’s a breakfast and brunch staple and is one of my go-to orders when dining out for brunch. I’ll be honest, I’m not a big bread girl, but this is where you’ll see it come through. I like my biscuits and gravy with fried chicken, just for the record. Want to learn more about the origins of biscuits and gravy? This is a great read!
Photo by She Wears Many Hats
Listen, there ain’t nothing better than boiled peanuts in a paper bag from a roadside stand. This southern treat is unique and perhaps an acquired taste. My father-in-law was not a fan when he tried them for the first time at the NC Farmer’s Market a few years ago. Despite that, I’m a big fan and look forward to finding places on road trips that I can stop and get a bag to snack on. For more information on the history of this dish, check out this article.
Photo from Delish
While I’m not a big bread gal, I’m a huge cheese girl and cheese straws are one of my favorite snacks to serve. This southern staple is a delicious one and is a tradition at baby showers, bridal showers, and annual holiday gatherings. Here is a little history plus a recipe for cheese straws.
Growing up, I was a rather picky eater and the one thing that my parents could consistently get me to eat was fried okra. I mean, I know that deep frying makes it not that healthy, however, you gotta your veggies however you can. While I still love fried okra the best, I’ll honestly take okra any way that I can, which is a rather new transition for me in the past couple of years. Just know that if we’re out to dinner and fried okra is on the menu, I’ll be ordering it.
Okra likely originated in Ethiopia dating back to 12th Century BC and was found in Brazil and Central America before moving into Louisiana, South Carolina and Virginia. This article details how okra and other native Western Africa crops were brought to the Americas as a result of transatlantic slave trade and provides valuable insight to colonization on agriculture in the South.
Read more about this meal from a recent trip to some of the western NC wineries.
Pimiento cheese is a crowd favorite in the Grant house and we order this as an appetizer pretty much anywhere that we go. I really appreciate twists that chefs might put on their pimiento cheese and what they serve it with, whether it’s veggies, pita, deep fried saltines, or crostinis. Regardless, it’s hard to go wrong. What I learned when writing this article is that pimento cheese actually originated in New York (the cream cheese is the giveaway here); however, it transitioned itself down South after a 1908 recipe was published in Good Housekeeping and Georgia started mass producing pimentos. Read more about its fascinating origins here.
Photo by Glory Roze Photography
Shrimp and Grits
One of my go-to dishes to order at a new restaurant is shrimp and grits. You can learn a lot about a restaurant and its chef by the preparation of shrimp and grits. While this dish is often linked to Charleston and New Orleans, there is a deeper historical connection linked to the transatlantic slave trade. Food historian, Michael Twitty, traced this dish’s origins back to Mozambique. Read more on the historical origins of this dish here.
Photo by Glory Roze Photography
Photo by Garden & Gun
This one was a bit harder to find the history on, yet the one thing that I did read was how this is a summer staple no matter your region. I know summer is here when I can eat a tomato sandwich using tomatoes from our garden. Despite ideas of the contrary, there is in fact a right way to make a tomato sandwich.
My go-to is on toasted sour dough bread, with Duke’s Mayo (don’t @ me, Duke’s is the best and you will not change my mind), 3-4 fresh, large, thin slices of tomatoes seasoned with Kosher salt, black pepper, and basil. The best way to eat this sandwich is standing up, usually over your kitchen sink so that you can easily clean up afterwards.
You may recognize some of these favorites from restaurant posts I’ve shared. To see all of our restaurant favorites, check out the Restaurants section of I’m Fixin’ To.
Shop the Post
What is some of the best southern food you’ve had? Let me know in a comment below!