Southern cuisine has no shortage of iconic foods, and you should definitely know how to cook a handful of them. However, there are some that you just need to travel for, no matter how good a cook you are, or how much praise is heaped upon a "Southern" restaurant that isn't in the South. Here are the South’s 10 most iconic foods and where to eat them at their best.
To narrow down the plethora of delicious, iconic foods of the South, we thought of items that you would almost certainly find on the menus of restaurants that dare to call themselves Southern, even though some of these foods, such as fried green tomatoes, don’t necessarily have origins south of the Mason-Dixon line. It wasn’t easy to leave out fried pickles, but they just don’t sing the song of the South as loudly as fried chicken. We also wanted to limit the number of fried foods on this list — at least a little — because there is so much more to Southern cookery than throwing food in a deep-fryer.
We found many of the eateries on this list thanks to Morgan Murphy’s fantastic book Southern Living Off the Eaten Path: On the Road Again, which features dining establishments in 16 different states. Trust us, reading Murphy’s mouth-watering food descriptions will make you willing to travel just to eat fried green tomatoes, stacked like a club sandwich, with a pimento cheese filling and a cap of fresh, Mexican-inspired crab, as per Acre in Auburn, Alabama.
Every dish in Southern cuisine is rich with history, whether it is a result of a dark past — fried chicken has a surprising relationship with slavery — or a melting pot of different cultures, as in the case of gumbo in Louisiana. Today, Southern food symbolizes comfort and hospitality that you can taste.
We’ve already created a fried chicken roadmap for you, but if you want to expand the menu, make sure to plan a trip according to these iconic foods.
Biscuits and Gravy
The contrasting textures of crisp-on-the-outside biscuits and dense gravy make this Southern dish popular the world over. It became ubiquitous in the South after the Revolutionary War, when farmers needed a cheap and filling meal to eat during breakfast that would fuel them through the rest of the day. Go to Early Girl Eatery in Asheville, North Carolina, where the gravy is made from smoky bacon instead of the usual sausage.
A staple vegetable of Southern cuisine, nutrient-packed collard greens are typically cooked with diced onions, vinegar, salt, crushed pepper, and a salted meat. They are eaten year round, and on New Year's Day, they, along with black-eyed peas and hog jowls, serve as a symbol of wealth for the new year. Go to Kitchen 208 in Charleston, South Carolina, where the meatloaf gets topped with slightly sweet braised collards.