Just about every region in every country has tasty cuisine specific to that area. In Germany, Bavaria is known for its schnitzel, Tandoori is the specialty in Punjab, India and quinoa is the staple of the Peruvian Andes.
The same goes for the United States, which offers varying delectable dishes depending on where you find yourself in this massive country. Though Southern regional cuisine may not be the first thing that pops into your head when you think “American food to die for,” it surprisingly offers a diverse menu that has become even more so as chefs jump onto the gourmet local-food bandwagon.
Take a tour through the food of the South via the images below, then start planning a road trip that will make your taste buds jump up and down with gratitude.
1) Shrimp and Grits
Now a staple in restaurants throughout the South (and beyond), you can find different versions of this signature dish depending on where you find yourself—loaded with extras such as scallions and mushrooms in an upscale South Carolina restaurant; flavored with spiciness in Mississippi; touched with a Mexican chipotle twist and queso fresco in Texas.
Pictured is the King and Prince Resort’s, located in St. Simons Island, Georgia, award-winning version of the delectable dish, full of cream, butter and, yes, lots more cream. Take time to savor and compare notes about this satisfying dish as you travel throughout the South.
Flaky, buttery, covered in jelly or smothered in gravy. For the Southern version of scones, biscuits are versatile in their application: add sausage and cheese for an easy breakfast, have them with strawberry jam and tea mid-afternoon or add some bacon and cheddar in the biscuit mix as a side dish for dinner.
Many southern restaurants offer these little gems as the starting bread dish before the meal. Just be sure not to fill up on these rich appetizers or you won’t be able to eat the rest of your meal!
3) Low Country Boil
What exactly is a Low Country boil you ask? Sometimes called a “seafood boil,” a National Guardsman who had to quickly cook up a meal for 100 soldiers developed this dish that includes shrimp, sausage, corn and potatoes.
Now a staple at cookouts on the beach and July 4th festivals throughout the South, this one-pot meal boils all the ingredients together. Just add some seafood seasoning and if you like, a little onion, crab and butter. Don’t forget a side of cocktail sauce.
Beyond a pot and a fire, the only other materials you need are some newspaper and a picnic table to dump the contents on once cooked. Your guests can then eat to their heart’s content.
Though honey was certainly not born in the Southern United States (evidence of honey harvesting dates back 8,000 years to Valencia, Spain), the sweet, slow, sticky sweetener conjures up images of hot afternoons and ice-cold beverages in the marshland.
Savannah, Georgia offers up this sweet delicacy at its Savannah Bee Company shops. Not only can you choose from a variety of honey types—tupelo, wildflower and acacia, you can also find easy pairings for your favorite foods and drinks such as cheese, teas and meat. Don’t forget the luscious body products, like hand salves and body butters.
When you are traveling through the South, try honey in place of sugar for drinks and treats.
5) Bread Pudding
What better use could there be for stale bread than to make it into a delicious dessert? Though that is the traditional way to make bread pudding, today it is normally made with gourmet bread, along with eggs, milk or cream, sugar and raisins. A popular addition is Nilla wafers.
Bread pudding is often considered to be a soul food and can be found in barbecue restaurants throughout the Southern United States. Make it a New Orleans-style version with some pecans, brioche bread and bourbon.
A lovable egg-heavy concoction that is a meal unto itself, the omelette isn’t necessarily a weekend Southern tradition. But the variety of the omelettes does allow for particular Southern influences that make it very obvious where you have landed in the country.
Palmer’s Village Cafe in St. Simons Island, Georgia offers its own Southern twist on the omelette, directly from a New York-trained chef: egg whites, smoked tomatoes, goat cheese with sweet potatoes, candied bacon and pea tendrils tossed in Georgia Olive Oil.
Other Southern versions often include lots of cheese, onion and ham.
7) Southern Wine
Sure, California is America’s wine country. It’s hard to surpass what they’ve become famous for. But with the increase in popularity of drinking nice wine over the last 10 years, other parts of the country have jumped on the wine-making bandwagon, including the South.
With the changing climate, it’s been easier to grow grapes in Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia. The wines produced in this region tend to be sweeter than the West Coast offerings and may offer flavors of different fruits.
If you enjoy wine tasting, head out to the Charlottesville area in Virginia, take a trip on the Yadkin Valley Wine Trail in North Carolina or head out to Still Pond Winery while you’re in southern Georgia.
There is possibly nothing more linked to the South than the word “Moonshine.” Illegal since Prohibition, this hard liquor has often been made in bathtubs and by the “light of the moon” by Appalachian distillers.
Times have changed, and moonshine is becoming the stuff of artisans and the locavore movement, with many producers considering their offering as organic. Though they don’t have the potency of the illegal versions, some state laws have changed over recent years that allow these artisanal versions to make their way to the market.
Midnight Moon makes their flavored offerings in Madison, North Carolina, conjuring up images of the speakeasies of yesteryear. Grab a moonshine cocktail at bars and pubs throughout the South.
What are some other great Southern foods that we missed? Let me know in the comments below.
If you liked this article, you might also like: 5 Hawaiian Dishes that only the Locals Eat.
All photos are author’s own.