There are so many foods within our country that are tied to regional cultures. I grew up in upstate New York and was occasionally introduced to new regional foods (especially as we traveled). But, of course, you just don’t have an appreciation of those differences when you’re a kid.
My husband grew up in Tennessee, so I started to get more exposure to new Southern foods when we were dating. When I moved south to Charleston right after our wedding day, however, and started learning to cook for us, there was a whole new world of culinary delights I was slowly introduced to in our day-to-day lives.
Here Are the Top Southern Foods I’ve Grown to Enjoy as a Northern Transplant:
One of our very first restaurant visits, when we took our initial exploration trip to Charleston, was Page’s Okra Grill. As far as I knew, I hadn’t heard of okra before, and their fried okra is the best. Learning about okra inspired me to challenge myself at the grocery store with new vegetables to incorporate into our meals.
- Collard Greens
Another vegetable I’d never considered before moving to the South was collard greens. Some new friends at our church had given us some out of their garden’s abundance, with a brief overview of how to cook them up on the stove, and I was hooked! We don’t eat collards too often, but my 20-something self was really proud of this new food in our repertoire.
I know for sure I literally had never heard of rutabaga before moving to Charleston. A coworker of mine would bring roasted rutabaga as a side for lunch often enough that I took notice. When I found it at the grocery store, I was a bit surprised to find it’s a waxy, dirty, ugly, round sucker. But washing, peeling, chopping, and roasting turns it into a sweet root side much like carrots! My new favorite roasted medley became carrots, rutabaga, and beets.
- Sweet Tea
Confession: I used to think sweet tea was gross. I know! Now I choose to avoid overly sweetened tea for health reasons (Double blasphemy!). Not only did moving South cause my inner thoughts to become Southern-accented, but it also caused an unexplainable, sudden taste for sweet tea. I found myself dumbfounded while visiting family up North when sweet tea just wasn’t on the menu at restaurants. It’s a way of life down here.
- Grape Salad
A coworker of mine brought grape salad to one of our potluck luncheons, and my life was never the same after that. You can make an out-of-this-world salad of just grapes?! I have brought grape salad to so many functions, including up North. I cannot get enough of the creamy sweetness paired with the tart crunch of fresh green and red grapes.
- Biscuits & Gravy
Biscuits and gravy were a totally new breakfast concept to me. I had my mother-in-law’s recipe and knew my husband loves it. So early in our young married days, I excitedly made his mom’s recipe for dinner to surprise him when he got home from work one day. His response when he got home thoroughly confused me, “Ooo, breakfast for dinner!” It has gravy. Gravy is eaten at dinner time with mashed potatoes, turkey, and the like. How is this dish breakfast?! Needless to say, it didn’t matter that it was a breakfast meal to him — who doesn’t love brinner?
- Biscuits in general
Speaking of biscuits, I have a newfound appreciation of fluffy, buttered, perfectly salted biscuits since moving South. Where I used to prefer cornbread on the side, I now usually ask for biscuits. I also look for biscuit options for my breakfast sandwiches, often replacing my go-to bagel bread.
- Hush Puppies
This was something I had heard of, but never knew exactly what they were until I moved South. Are they stuffed animals? I heard they were food, and maybe shoes. Now I know they’re a delicious side that I strongly consider switching from french fries to every time they’re offered. You know they’ve got to be good if they’re swapped in over fries.
- Pimiento Cheese
On crackers, over a burger, between bread, oh my! Pimiento cheese is always my best good idea now. I don’t know how I lived so long without it.
- Cornbread Dressing/Corn Pudding
I always liked cornbread — that wasn’t new when I moved South. But something I love about Southern cooking is these recipes take cornbread to a whole new level.
- Chicken & Dumplings
This is a staple at my husband’s family Thanksgiving — something I’d never thought to have with the holiday. The creamy, doughy concoction is such a soothing comfort food for any day. I get it now.
- Boiled Peanuts
Last but not least, boiled peanuts. I know I don’t pronounce them as the locals do, but they are such a good treat I love to partake in when perusing downtown Charleston. Before I moved down to Charleston, my grandpa told tales of the boiled peanuts in the South. If I could have, I would have mailed him some. This was a Southern delicacy that I’m so glad my grandfather told me not to miss while living in the South!