The Southeast is book-ended by the sea. For centuries, the cooks of many cultures have made enthusiastic use of the abundant aquatic life all around them.
The Lowdown on Lowcountry Cuisine
Along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia lies a stretch of coastal plains, marshlands, swamps and Sea Islands known as the Lowcountry. Here, French and West African culinary traditions came together to build a cuisine based on rice and the area's abundant seafood. Frogmore stew, for example, is a culinary creation credited to African-Americans of West African heritage known as the Gullah. If you use words like "goober" (for peanut) and "gumbo," you're speaking a bit of Gullah.
"Floribbean" cuisine reflects the lengthy history of a land that has been fought over by French, Spanish, English and Native Americans. Before European arrivals, Native Americans cooked with Florida's abundant local ingredients (like yucca, plantains, and hearts of palm). The Spanish arrived in the 1500s, bringing pigs and cattle. They also introduced slaves, who contributed foods like okra, callaloo (a kale-like vegetable), yams and eggplant. Even today, there's room for continued culinary evolution as the Sunshine State proves to be a magnet for internal American migration.
Cuban, Little Havana Style
Miami, Florida, has the second largest Cuban population of any city in the world, behind only Havana. It's not surprising, then, that meals in Miami should have a Cuban accent. In fact, South Florida and Cuba share a common history: both lands were at one time claimed by Spain. Their close geographic proximity, the rush of Cuban immigrants into South Florida, and the wealth of foods indigenous to both places have eased the adaptation and evolution of Cuban cuisine in and around Miami.
Sensational Southeastern Seafood
For seafood lovers, the Southeast is the place to be. The Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea provide fresh fish in abundance. Shrimp in these waters come in a variety of colors, though they all turn pink once cooked. Rock lobsters and stone crabs are also popular shellfish--almost too popular. In an attempt to preserve a dwindling stone crab population, fisherman now clip off the highly prized claws and return the crab unharmed to the water, where the claws grow back in a few short weeks.
In the South, barbeque fosters fierce loyalties. If you're eating barbeque in the Carolinas, chances are pretty good that you're enjoying pulled pork shoulder, cooked long and low over flavor-forging wood smoke. In North Carolina, expect a powerful tang of vinegar in your barbeque sauce. In South Carolina, mustard is a common base for tangy sauces.
The Fruits of Their Labor
The southeast corner of the United States is a fruit basket for the nation. Georgia, the Peach State, produces more than 40 varieties of this stone fruit--and puts the peach front and center on their license plates. However, South Carolina actually produces more! The situation for citrus in the Southeast is also quite juicy. Florida provides 80 percent of our orange juice, and is no slouch at growing lemons, limes, grapefruit and tangerines. Florida also produces avocados, mangos, and many other fruits.