Like much of the south, Charleston cuisine has been affected by African and Caribbean influence. Along with the European heritage of its settlers and the proximity of the coast and available seafood, these influences have lead to the creation of many unique and delicious dishes. Don't be afraid to give a new dish a try. It might become a favorite.
Shrimp and Grits:
Grits have been a staple breakfast side dish in the south since the Native American introduced them to the European settlers in the 1600s. Being a coastal city, shrimp has also been a standard throughout homes in Charleston, SC. A combination of the two was inevitable and soon the fishermen and shrimpers of the area were consuming shrimp and grits as a meal for breakfast, especially during shrimping season. There are many ways to prepare shrimp and grits, with the differences mainly being in the way the shrimp is cooked and the type of gravy used. Each method has its proponents.
She Crab Soup:
She Crab Soup is a bisque style soup made in a chowder style that was invented in the Charleston area. Though the exact date has been lost to history, she-crab soup has been around since the very early 20th Century. It is made of the orange crab roe of the female crab or "She-Crab" and milk or heavy cream. A small amount of dry sherry adds to the flavor as well as the "She" portion of the name.
Frogmore Stew, Beaufort Stew or Lowcountry Boil:
The names apply as much to the gatherings where they are served as to the dish itself. Boils are held and made throughout the south and have as many similarities as differences. In the Lowcountry of South Carolina, the dish has its beginnings in the Gullah/Geechee heritage of many of the people in the area. While exact lists of ingredients vary between establishments and according to the name given, typically these boils include shrimp, sausage, corn and red potatoes.
Charleston Red Rice:
Like the Frogmore Stew/Lowcountry Boil above, Charleston Red Rice has its roots in the Geechee/Gullah culture of the people of the Lowcountry of South Carolina. At its simplest, Charleston Red Rice is white rice made with crushed tomatoes, sausage and onions.
Benne is the Bantu word for sesame, which was brought to the southeastern US from East Africa in the 17th Century. Benne Wafers have been made in Charleston for centuries and are a favorite with tourists and locals alike. Basically sesame seed cookies, these delicacies have almost an almond or peanut buttery taste, are rich in vitamins and contain no cholesterol. Benne Wafers were believed by the Bantu to bring good luck.
Like many of our historic dishes of the south, Hoppin' John was brought to the US by slaves, in this case from West Africa. A New Years tradition throughout the south, Hoppin’ John is normally made from rice and black-eyed peas. Charleston and the Lowcountry substitute the smaller field peas. Served for luck on New Year’s Day, a coin is sometimes added to the pot or placed under the plates of diners.
Fried Green Tomatoes:
Fried Green Tomatoes are served throughout the southeastern US, but many Charlestonians have developed a taste for them. Basically, a ripe green tomato is sliced and breaded with a corn meal breading, then deep fried. Sometimes they are served atop grits (http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art20239.asp) and as an appetizer.
Another southern staple, Collard Greens are usually prepared the same way other similar greens are made; such as kale, turnip greens, spinach, and mustard greens, usually with various meats like ham hocks or fat back. Along with the luck from Hoppin' John, Collards are consumed on new years to provide wealth for the upcoming year.
To try some of these delightful dishes at home, buy the Charleston Receipts cookbook from Amazon. Gathered by the Junior League of Charleston, many of these recipes have been handed down for generations.