Let’s talk about the South some more. This time, let’s talk about the best bit of the South: the food. We don’t have a lot of things to be proud of in the South, but our food is one of them.
One time in Paris, this French guy tried to have a go at me for being American. “Americans are so fat,” he sneered. I just looked at him and said, “I’m from the fattest state of them all. You know why? Because our food is so good we cannot. stop. eating.” His eyes widened, “Mais, non, not better than the French.” I shrugged, “I don’t see French people getting fat, so your food can’t be that good.” And it isn’t. It’s alright, but it’s not the best food in the world.
Chicken and dumplings, fried squash, and greens
I stand by that statement: Mississippi has the best food in the entire world. Only Japan comes close to the variety and culinary glory of my impoverished ancestors.
But you know what’s weird? After singing the praises of southern down home cooking for ages, suddenly the past year or so it is getting trendy in big fancy cities. Cities decidedly NOT in the south. I couldn’t go eat brunch anywhere in NYC, especially Brooklyn, without seeing grits on the menu. What is it with hipsters and grits? Do they feel more authentic if they eat grits and biscuits or something?
Similarly, here in London there is some sort of trend for barbeque going on. Whereas up until recently there was exactly one choice for southern barbeque, there are now five places to get your ribs. One of which is trendy Pitt Cue Co, who seem to have accrued a massive hipster following, whereas I was really unimpressed by their pulled pork sandwiches, so I don’t understand why. Bodean’s is better, and cheaper, and now hopefully less crowded if the trendmonkies have gone to Pitt down the road.
Hank’s BBQ Ribs: the best fall-apart ribs I have had in my life. Potato salad and BBQ beans.
Look, hipsters don’t know barbeque, they don’t know good biscuits, and they sure as hell don’t know grits if they grew up in New Jersey/Bedfordshire.
I wish I could be really excited about people getting interested in po folks food, but I can’t. The reason for this is that these Yankees/Brits, the majority of whom have never even set foot in the south (excepting New Orleans or a layover at ATL), will rip off our food but slag off our culture. Well, you can’t have one without the other. Honest simple wholesome tasty food comes from a culture of honest simple wholesome people who like said food. You can’t exist in a bubble of London/NYC worldliness, and then co-opt bits of my culture and fancy them up a bit and expect me to think that you are authentic or honest when you wouldn’t know white gravy if it kicked you in the ass.
Since you don’t know jack about what the South is really like, you also don’t know what real grandma-made proper Southern cooking is like. You don’t know church lady potluck food, you’ve never been to a fish fry, you probably never even heard of Brunswick stew. You think your tarted up verson of shrimp and grits or pulled pork is cool and nouveau? Not when the whole POINT of Southern food is uncoolness and deep-deep-deep-rooted tradition. The older and more untainted a recipe, the better. You don’t “improve” these recipes, you don’t “tweak” them. They are archetypes. Like the South, they resist change. Like the South, they are deeply flawed (unhealthy) but beautiful.
Sonic chili cheese tater tots
So stop trying to make my food unless you know what’s what. One roadtrip through the Delta doesn’t mean you are now an expert on cornbread and crawfish. Hell, I have been making cornbread and biscuits for years, and I STILL struggle to make some that I consider edible. There is a fine art to this deceptively simple food: there are rituals and years of practice and sleights of hands that you just have to somehow get the knack for through practice and trial and error.
A Heston Blumenthal recipe for pulled pork? Jamie Oliver’s Barbacoa? What the hell do either of them know about barbeque? Heston is using the wrong cut of meat and doing a rush job, for god’s sake! Mr Man went and got one of Mr Oliver’s pulled pork sandwiches the other day, and said mine was flat out better. It should be. I have a lifetime of context behind it. I know what good barbeque tastes like because I grew up with it. So here’s my recipe for cheater slow-cooked BBQ pulled pork.
If you want to experience great southern cooking, skip the name brand trendy places in big cities, fly south, and drive around in the little godforsaken no-name towns and visit the places that are in rusted shacks with handpainted signs. Places that don’t have websites, although Hank’s does. There you will find culinary nirvana and friendly people happy to talk your ear off about how proud they are of their food. Have some sweet tea and a sit-down, ok? Try a hushpuppy and a fried peach pie. Just don’t even think about going on a diet.
Now excuse me, I have to go put the rub on my pork shoulder so it can sit overnight before I slow cook it to have PROPER pulled pork sandwiches tomorrow afternoon.
Rotel queso blanco cheese dip, almost all gone