1. Crawfish and Fixin’s
What do you get when you combine a massive cauldron, corn on the cob, whole red potatoes, water bugs and a man in denim short shorts stirring it all together? A traditional Louisiana crawfish boil, an event that you must partake in before you die. You’ll never pass a better time, as they say in Nola. You can even be an honorary Cajun after you suck the little critter’s brains out.
Sure it originated in France, but once French settlers brought it to Louisiana, it would never be the same. What began as almonds coated in caramelized sugar quickly became the creamy pecan confection we love so dearly. Thanks, New Orleans, we owe you one.
3. Dr. Pepper & Peanuts
Across the South, when people need to consolidate their gas station favorites into one cup holder, they dump their peanuts into their soda bottles and totally live it up with this sweet-n-salty combo. Most do it with Coke, but since Dr. Pepper was born in Waco, Texans keep it local with their old faithful beverage. There’d probably be pork rinds in there too if they’d fit through the bottle opening. Anyway, bottoms up.
If nougat and meringue had a baby, they would pop out one happy little divinity blob complete with pecan. Nuts were prevalent across the South so they became a popular topping for the candy when diced fruits were hard to come by. If you can find a little old lady who still makes it, ditch your grandma and adopt her instead.
5. Pimento Cheese
It’s known as the caviar of the South, which is sad because it’s made of Velveeta. If you must confront a pot of startlingly orange cheese mayo pimento mush, make sure it was at least made at home. The store-bought stuff gives real pimento spread a bad wrap (and has higher toxicity levels than nuclear waste).
6. Hummingbird Cake
This cake is all about the perfect amount of squish coated in cream cheese frosting. Inside? Pecans, cinnamon, banana, and sometimes pineapple. It’s an actual slice of heaven. The first published hummingbird cake recipe belonged to L.H. Wiggins and was found in Southern Living in 1978, even though the cake itself has been fattening up Christmas guests since the mid-1800s.
7. Black-eyed Peas and Collard Greens
Collards alone are a traditional Southern side, but these two pair like peanut butter and chocolate, and they first met up during The Civil War after General Sherman destroyed the rest of the crops. Now they’re the traditional meal of New Year’s Day, and they’re supposed to usher in good luck and a lot of moo-la. Unfortunately, collard greens really only beget more collard greens. But they are tasty.
8. Chicken Livers & Gizzards
These little innards usually come fried with hot sauce or honey mustard, but they also make appearances in crawfish boils and gumbos. How do they taste? Like the fried batter and oil barely clinging to them. How is the texture? Akin to rubber. They’re still worth trying though, you know, just to see.
9. Tomato Sandwiches
So simple, so southern. It takes two slices of overly processed bread, a few swipes of mayo and your preferred amount of mater slices to make one mediocre after-school snack. Still used today by southern wives as defense from pugnacious husbands who fear mayo breath.
10. Chitterlings (AKA Chitlins)
The South be not proud of every dish, but chitlins are a major player in southern cuisine and soul food. They’re usually stewed, battered and fried, then served with vinegar and hot sauce. Don’t knock ‘em ‘til you try ‘em, or at least do it for the story. Pics or it didn’t happen though.
11. Fried Green Tomatoes (and Green Beans and Okra)
Vegetables are important, but like pouty children, folks in the South won’t eat them unless they sneak onto their plates in disguise. Fried green tomatoes and okra both provide great texture contrasts between the crunchy batter outside and soft ninja veggie hiding within, so definitely order a side of these should you get the opportunity.
12. Grits (AKA hominy or polenta)
Served with shrimp or cheese or what have you, this multi-monikered corn sand is commonly eaten for breakfast porridge-style or served as a side. It became a staple in poorer southern households in the form of fried mush. Dip the little grit sticks in some syrup and you’ll fall in love at an alarming rate. Today, grits are the official food of Georgia, and the states from Texas to Virginia are known as the grits belt since they consume three-quarters of the grits produced in the U.S.
13. Milk Gravy
Perfect atop Mimi’s biscuits, fried chicken and shoe leather. Many a southerner would gnosh on a cinder block as long as it was smothered in this savory nectar. Everyone with a kitchen below the Mason-Dixon Line should already have a solid milk gravy recipe memorized, and if not, may Paula Deen smite you with a wooden spoon.