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What to eat in the Deep South

What to eat in the Deep South

story by: Anna Sarjeant

Those on a health kick might want to avoid the USA’s Deep South, because if it’s not high in sugar, high in fat – or more likely, high in both, it’s not deemed fit to pass your mouth. But for those who want to experience flavours built from history and shaped by generations; moulded by slaves who relied on their master’s scraps and ancestral recipes that have existed for centuries, the five southern states of the US offer a taste sensation worth expanding your waistline for.

Here are our top picks for keeping the taste buds satisfied in some of the most soulful states in the US:

1. Louisiana
Cajun cuisine presides in Louisiana, with spicy one-pot dishes such as Jambalaya a reigning classic on the Deep South table. But you won’t make it through a Louisiana spring without wrapping your tongue around the southern state’s other signature dish, a crawfish boil. With crawfish season spanning from March to June, the boil is more of an event than a menu option. Boiled in a huge metal pot, complete with corn, garlic, potatoes and sausage (and a whole heap of other produce dependant on your chef) you’ll sit down a little while later ready to get your hands dirty. Don’t expect a knife and fork, this is hands in, tails off and heads decapitated kind of fare. Tasty and a lot of fun, even Elvis Presley was a fan, once saying “if you boil a crawfish just right, it'll be sweeter than sugar when you first take a bite.” Straight out of the mouth of the biggest sugar fiend in the states – so you know it's good.

Wash it down with: Why jazz of course! You’re in the birthplace of all things sax and soul. Head to New Orleans and you’ll find a cool old man with a double-bass crooning in every bar across the city. This is not a New Orleans cliché, it’s an everyday event, in every drinking establishment, on every corner of every borough. And will said-crooner also have a Bourbon in his hand? You bet your last bottom dollar he will.

2. Mississippi
For every ‘i’ and ‘s’ in its name (and there are four of each) Mississippi has a culinary treat to make your taste buds cheer. From Mississippi mud pies (the ones that sit on window ledges and waft into your nostrils like a Disney cartoon) to corn bread, cheese straws and buttered shrimps, this is comfort food at its most hearty. As the largest producer of farm-raised catfish in the USA and mostly prominent in BB King’s birth place, Indianola, you’ll find catfish sliders, po’boys, salads, gratins, burgers and pates on every menu in every eatery. If you’re really lucky you’ll fall upon a diner serving fried catfish with a side of Mississippi comeback sauce. We have no idea where it’s coming back from, but it arrives as mayonnaise – loaded with lemon, garlic and secret seasoning. It’s also incredible.  

Wash it down with: In Mississippi the pecan is to locals what feijoas are to kiwis. So abundant they can’t eat them fast enough. Hence the never-ending supply of pecan pie, roasted pecans, candied pecans, Cajun pecans and when all that became too 'pecanny', they cooked them in Jack Daniels. Nuts with a side soaking of whiskey - such hardships these Mississippians must endure!

3. Georgia
For the majority, ‘grits’ does not conjure images of food - the bottom of your pockets after a day at the beach perhaps, but not a tasty breakfast staple. But in Georgia (and across all the southern states) grits are as common as a good ole Kiwi barbie. A similar texture to polenta, grits are ground from the inside part of a corn kernel. Possibly of Native American origin, they have the consistency of porridge and if done right, they’re velvety smooth and super creamy. Common add-ons include eggs and bacon, a dusting of cheese or a simple dash of butter and salt, but the all-time must-have while digging about in the Deep South is undoubtedly grits and shrimp. Need we mention Bubba Gump of Forest Gump fame? Sure, he was all about the shrimp, but he also knew that grits really make those shrimp pop!

Wash it down with: A glass of Coca Cola. Don’t think that’s very original? It wouldn’t be if Georgia wasn’t the birth town of the world’s number one sparkling beverage. Yes indeed, Coca Cola originates from Georgia.

In 1886 an Atlanta pharmacist going by the name of Dr John S Pemberton concocted a mixture of syrup, sugar and carbonated water. Don’t ask us for anything more specific than that, the Coca Cola recipe is more classified than a CIA filing cabinet, but we do know he served it for 5 cents per glass from a soda fountain in downtown Atlanta. In fact, the company’s headquarters are still located in the same area, as well as ‘The World of Coca Cola’ which is an interactive museum dedicated to the history of Pemberton and his fizzy pop masterpiece.

You want to know if the museum sheds light on the claim that original cola was made with narcotics don’t you? What can we say, you better go to Georgia! 

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