The plump shrimp, sautéed in a aromatic mix of garlic, scallions, and mushrooms, reminded me of my mom’s Cantonese cooking: firing up ginger, scallions, and garlic in a wok and searing seafood with its addictive aroma.
However I was not sitting in my mother’s kitchen but in Hominy Grill, a restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina, recognized for its shrimp and grits, a basic Lowcountry dish.
Hominy Grill’s version is an area favourite, made with white cheddar that melts gently into the fluffy kernels, topped with crispy bits of bacon.
Lowcountry cuisine, discovered mainly within the coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia, culls influences from the cultures of its early dwellers: African, Spanish, French, English, Caribbean. The West African traditions of slaves who have been delivered to work on plantations here have had an indelible influence on the cuisine: from introducing staple elements like rice, okra, and benne seeds, to the plentiful use of seafood.
There isn't any documented evidence that Cantonese culinary traditions made their option to the early American South. Why, then, did these shrimp and grits, served in a place so in contrast to my residence in New York City—with palmetto timber lining the streets, church steeples studding the skyline, and strangers strolling by and greeting you with pleasantries—evoke such a well-known taste?
Maybe one of the great joys of touring is discovering how totally different cultures interpret and experiment with nature’s bounty in comparable ways. Is grits not a form of porridge, akin to Italy’s polenta or Chinese language congee? And don’t many cultures embrace some variation of barbecue? (And there's a lot to be present in Charleston, from Rodney Scott BBQ’s legendary South Carolina-style pulled pork to Texas-style brisket, submitting to the knife like smooth butter, at Lewis Barbecue.)
We are extra alike than we're totally different.
In Charleston, I used to be stunned by how familiar elements led me down the path to fascinating historical past lessons. Carolina Gold is quite a lot of rice that was once planted throughout the South and was so named because it was such a profitable business crop. Its origins hint again to West Africa and Southeast Asia.
At Husk, a restaurant based by acclaimed chef Sean Brock that has performed a pivotal position in reviving heirloom elements native to the South, Carolina Gold rice is widely known in a dish referred to as Charleston Ice Cream: rice grains folded into butter and shrimp bouillon comprised of Louisiana dried shrimp, like a velvety risotto laden with umami. The flares of oceanic savoriness reminded me of my mother’s stir-fried water spinach cooked with heady shrimp paste.
And at FIG, Carolina Gold plays a supporting position in a strong stew, French bouillabaisse-style, with white wine, fish inventory, quite a lot of fragrant herbs, vegetables, and native seafood. The creamy, thick liquid drenches the rice, the best way I eat a equally wealthy Malaysian curry at considered one of my favorite eating places in New York’s Chinatown.
However Southern hospitality, half and parcel of the dining culture right here, is probably what makes the food especially memorable.
Martha Lou’s Kitchen, an area institution that has served soul meals staples from a pastel pink shack on the aspect of a freeway since 1983, continues to be run by the identical household. On my visit, one among Martha Lou’s daughters sang the menu gadgets cheerily upon seating me at the table. Fried hen, fried whiting, giblet rice—made with hen giblets, lima beans rendered to virtually soup-like consistency, and bread pudding are among the fixings.
They are good, in fact, as a result of all that acquainted warmth and scrumptious food has me feeling like the South might be my residence too.
The place to Stay
Francis Marion Hotel, a historic lodge inbuilt 1924, that includes panoramic views of Charleston’s harbor and stylish decor fit for a Southern belle.
Magnolia Plantation, a former plantation with beautiful gardens, swamps teeming with wildlife, and historic homes offers a relaxing reprieve from downtown.
Charleston City Market, one of many nation’s oldest public markets, is right for selecting up some Southern specialties as souvenir presents, from peach jams to pink rice seasoning and benne seed biscuits.
Don’t overlook to go to the seashore when you’re right here. Take a short automotive journey out to the nearby outer islands, and you’ll find sandy coves like Folly Beach, which just about resembles a surf city with its funky, laidback vibe.
Hop on a ship tour of the harbor to spot bottlenose dolphins popping out of the water and study some Civil Conflict history.
Apart from strolling iconic areas of downtown—purchasing on King Street, admiring brilliantly colored houses within the French Quarter, and having fun with harbor views at Waterfront Park—stop by the well-preserved historic homes round city like the Aiken-Rhett House, where you’ll uncover what it was like dwelling in Charleston in its earlier days.