The plump shrimp, sautéed in a fragrant mixture of garlic, scallions, and mushrooms, reminded me of my mother’s Cantonese cooking: firing up ginger, scallions, and garlic in a wok and searing seafood with its addictive aroma.
However I used to be not sitting in my mother’s kitchen however 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 delicacies, discovered primarily 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 right here have had an indelible influence on the cuisine: from introducing staple components like rice, okra, and benne seeds, to the plentiful use of seafood.
There isn't any documented proof 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 house in New York City—with palmetto timber lining the streets, church steeples studding the skyline, and strangers walking by and greeting you with pleasantries—evoke such a well-known taste?
Maybe one of many nice joys of touring is discovering how totally different cultures interpret and experiment with nature’s bounty in comparable ways. Is grits not a type 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 found in Charleston, from Rodney Scott BBQ’s legendary South Carolina-style pulled pork to Texas-style brisket, submitting to the knife like gentle butter, at Lewis Barbecue.)
We are more alike than we're totally different.
In Charleston, I was stunned by how acquainted components led me down the path to fascinating historical past classes. Carolina Gold is quite a lot of rice that was once planted all through the South and was so named because it was such a profitable business crop. Its origins hint back 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 components 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 jogged my memory of my mother’s stir-fried water spinach cooked with heady shrimp paste.
And at FIG, Carolina Gold performs a supporting position in a strong stew, French bouillabaisse-style, with white wine, fish inventory, quite a lot of fragrant herbs, vegetables, and local seafood. The creamy, thick liquid drenches the rice, the best way I eat a equally rich Malaysian curry at one among my favorite restaurants in New York’s Chinatown.
But Southern hospitality, part and parcel of the dining tradition right here, might be what makes the meals especially memorable.
Martha Lou’s Kitchen, an area institution that has served soul food staples from a pastel pink shack on the aspect of a freeway since 1983, continues to be run by the same family. On my visit, one in every of Martha Lou’s daughters sang the menu gadgets cheerily upon seating me on the desk. Fried hen, fried whiting, giblet rice—made with hen giblets, lima beans rendered to virtually soup-like consistency, and bread pudding are among the many fixings.
They're good, in fact, because all that acquainted heat and scrumptious meals has me feeling just like the South might be my residence too.
The place to Stay
Francis Marion Hotel, a historic lodge inbuilt 1924, featuring panoramic views of Charleston’s harbor and stylish decor match for a Southern belle.
Magnolia Plantation, a former plantation with beautiful gardens, swamps teeming with wildlife, and historic houses supplies a relaxing reprieve from downtown.
Charleston City Market, one of the nation’s oldest public markets, is right for selecting up some Southern specialties as memento presents, from peach jams to pink rice seasoning and benne seed biscuits.
Don’t overlook to visit the seashore when you’re right here. Take a short automotive experience out to the close by 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 Struggle history.
Apart from strolling iconic areas of downtown—purchasing on King Street, admiring brilliantly coloured homes within the French Quarter, and having fun with harbor views at Waterfront Park—cease by the well-preserved historic houses around town like the Aiken-Rhett House, where you’ll uncover what it was like dwelling in Charleston in its earlier days.