12 Signs You Learned To Eat in the South
1. None of your vegetable plates are vegetarian.
As a vegetarian, eating in the South can be risky business. There are bacon bits hiding in the corn dish, chicken stock simmering in the green bean casserole, and cracklin’ baked in the cornbread. In other words, if you go out to eat, you’re forced to ask “Is there any meat made with this?” for pretty much everything you order. Which, in return, you’ll probably be met with “Yeah, it’s all vegetarian. The cow was a vegetarian, the pig was a vegetarian, the chicken was a vegetarian…”
2. Three words: pimento freakin’ cheese.
If you don’t like a chunky concoction of graded cheese, pimento peppers, and mayonnaise slapped on white bread, then you should probably just move to Florida.
3. Truth: tea is served one way and one way only.
Dolly Parton puts it simply in Steel Magnolias by proclaiming sweet tea as the “house wine of the South.” To make it right, you’ve got to brew about seven Lipton tea bags, pour over a mound of sugar in a gallon pitcher, dilute with water, and store in the fridge. Let it cool for about 45 minutes, mix with some ice cubes, and down the orange, syrupy brew out of a glass beaded with condensation.
As far as hot tea, you only drink it if you’re sick. Even so, you’ll probably still complain.
4. You eat black-eyed peas and greens on New Year’s.
If you want a year of prosperity, you know to make a plate of black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, specifically eating one pea for each day of the year. And if you want a year of wealth, throw some greens on there too.
5. You’re no longer shocked by any sort of fried food.
Cooking in the South will sometimes catch you in the line of crossfire. Every skillet pops with hot oil while you fry up an array of fatty dishes including fried chicken, fried catfish, fried vegetables, fried bread, fried Twinkies, fried butter, fried grease, etc. Not saying we’re not aware of how ridiculous and disgustingly unhealthy the South’s obsession with fried food is, but when someone offers you some deep-fried guacamole, you’ll try some.
6. You understand that grits are everything.
There’s something about this dish of coarsely ground corn kernels boiled with water or milk that really turns on a Southerner’s palate. There’s shrimp and grits, catfish and grits, fried grits, smoked gouda grits, lemon garlic grits, berries and honey grits, grit cakes, pimento cheese grits, spicy grits, sweet grits, grits for breakfast, grits for lunch, grits for dinner. Grits for everything, grits for days.
7. You know all the best ways to eat barbecue.
No matter what your style is, or whether you fancy Memphis, North Carolina, Texas, or Kansas City barbecue, you know the best way to eat the slow-cooked meat is to baste and douse it in an array of sauces incorporating flavors such as vinegar, pepper, tomato, mustard, worcestershire, or tinged with ketchup. And when you don’t want it wet, you opt for Memphis-style dry barbecue rubbed in spices and herbs and then smoked.
Either way, you know to accompany this Southern staple with a side of sloppy coleslaw and a slice of cornbread.
8. You know the difference between dinner and supper.
Dinner is technically the main meal of the day. Supper is in the evening.
This story was produced through the travel journalism programs at MatadorU.
9. You have a fine appreciation for boiled peanuts.
You know that only green peanuts plucked right off the vine are best when boiled and tossed in some cajun seasoning. You also know that any roadside stand selling wet ziploc bags of the “caviar of the South” are usually to be trusted. Boiled peanuts are squishy, juicy, salty, sometimes spicy, and leave your fingers pruny and your shirt sloppy. But damn, are they delicious.
10. You ask for a Coke even if you want a Sprite.
If you want the black carbonated beverage from Atlanta, you ask for a “cola.” Otherwise, if you request a “Coke” at a restaurant, you know you’ve got to specify which kind.
11. Your breakfasts aren’t complete without biscuits and gravy.
A plate of fluffy, buttermilk biscuits slathered and soaked in peppered sawmill gravy is an essential food group in the South. Throw a side of hashbrowns, eggs, and grits on your plate, and you can go on and wipe that drool off your chin.
12. You know the best way to conserve silverware.
Why waste a fork when you can just put your meal on a stick?