The Daily Meal was inspired after the recent Cook It Raw "field trip" in Charleston, S.C., and we decided to delve into what is the true essence of Lowcountry cooking.
What we discovered is that if someone really wants to get a true taste of Charleston’s cuisine, they need to look into the hidden places serving what is called "Gullah" or "soul" food. These are restaurants filled with families of cooks who for generations have been serving dishes from recipes handed down over the years. There is typically nothing fancy about them, just good home-cooked meals available via platters or buffets and often times at amazingly affordable prices.
This is not your average Charleston eating tour, but it’s our recommended Gullah/Soul Food Tour and before heading out, we have some recommendations:
1. Take a friend. Or two. Being from Charleston, we were embarrassed that we had only been to one of these places before the tour. What a loss. The food was some of the best and most inexpensive that we have had. We brought another writer, Eric Doksa, and got some recommendations from other area food experts including Jeff Allen, who we dub as an expert of the subject in the city.
2. Bring cash. Most places only accept it and you won’t need much.
3. Check out the décor. A sign of a great place is their artwork and community posters. We love all the murals hand-painted on the walls, and the flyers listing other community food-based events are a great thing to take note of during your visit.
4. Call ahead for the hours. Several of these places did not have websites and if we found times listed on a third-party site, it typically was dated and inaccurate.
5. Bring wet naps and crab crackers. We were hungry and ready to eat and did not have the appropriate tools to do so. We resorted to using our hands, shoes, and whatever else we could find to crack some crabs.
6. Plan to stand. Seating is extremely limiting in most places and sometimes nonexistent. We used the back of our trunk a few times to perch, but if you can bring a few folded chairs along, it might make for a better place to eat.
7. Introduce yourself and talk to the staff. The stories are great and each place makes you feel at home. Just watching the people come in and out of the restaurants was equally enjoyable as the food. Everyone seems to be a regular and knows one another. It makes for a great place to be and be seen.
8. Take your time. We rushed through it in a day but we recommend visiting these places over a course of a week or more. Once you go, mark my words, you will be back!
Read on for the tour. Let the Gullah eating begin!