Eating Down South

By Biswarup Ganguly (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Southern food has a certain reputation.  People say folks down here deep fry everything.  They say the food is boring and generic and unhealthy.  Northerners point to Fried Chicken, Fried Twinkies, Fried Snickers bars, Fried Oreos, and Deep fried steak as examples.

Now there is a certain modicum of truth to all that.  Ok so there’s more than a modicum.  A lot of Southern food is indeed deep fried.  Not that that’s a bad thing.  Since moving to Mississippi my eyes have been opened to the wonders of Hush Puppies and sausage gravy and I’ve put eating deep fried Twinkies on my bucket list.  I was already a huge fan of Chicken fried steak and buttermilk biscuits so that wasn’t much of a shift.  
The first thing which needs to be pointed out is that deep frying is not unique to the South.  Chicken fingers and french fries are both deep fried.  So are zeppoles, funnel cake, mozzarella sticks and falafels. Nor is this style of cooking unique to America.  Koreans make some damn good chicken wings and that photo above was taken in India. The fact is that dropping stuff in hot oil makes it taste good.  Southerners are just more open about that fact.

The second is that not all Southern food is deep fried.   Barbecue is a classic example.  Arguably smoking meat and slathering it with sauce is a more Southern thing than plopping it in the deep fryer (although Texans will perhaps disagree).  Crawfish and shrimp are another example being that both are often boiled.  And Cajun cooking is a world unto itself.   There are also places in the South less isolated than Cleveland and there one finds more diverse cuisine.  
Which leads me to my next point.  The Delta is not the most happening of places, as I’ve noted before (although there are exceptions!).  Being isolated means it hasn’t seen as many transplants as places like the Northeast or New England or the West Coast which in turn means fewer influences on the food.  But few and none are two different things.  There is a small Mexican influence on food around the Delta as noted by the prevalence of tamales and Mexican restaurants.  The same goes for Chinese food although it tends to be of the standard American variety.  
And Cleveland is a major exception.  Aside from fast food there are lots of places to eat around here.  You can have breakfast at the Starving Musician or Desert Inn Steakhouse (weekends only), coffee at Mississippi Grounds, lunch at Hey Joe’s Records and Cafe, A La Carte, Crave, Delta Meat Market (also the local butcher shop) or The Senator’s Place, and dinner at Sweets BBQ, Airport Grocery, or Lost Dog Pizza followed by dessert at Delta Dairy.  I’ve probably left a few off.  
The point is that there’s much more to the Delta and Mississippi generally than meets the eye.  As with other things, some stereotypes about the food down here are true and others aren’t.  You won’t find a whole lot of Thai or Indian food, although rumors abound of such a place to get the latter down in Leland.  But learning the ins and outs of a new place is just part of the adventure.  

Article by Mike

Mike is the Head of Discovery Services for the Delta State University Library. He has lived in Cleveland since May 2013.

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