Most of my readers do not live anywhere near Columbia, SC. I bet a lot of y'all have never been here, either.
Well, never fear. VB is here.
Ever since Meghan sent me a list of ways to know you are from her hometown of Pittsburgh, I have been trying to compile a similar list for Columbia. Which is easier said than done. You see, Columbia isn't all that large. We have only about 117,000 in the city limits. Living in a city that small means it's hard to separate South Carolina/Southern culture from Columbia culture. We have a lot of regional influence here. Guess I will have to start with General Southern Things. So if you want to know how to survive down here or how to make sense of our weird Southern quirks, keep reading.
Here we go. Er, wait. There is too much.
*Edit: Ok, this started to get really long. So I'm going to have to make this a series. This first part will be about food-related Southern culture. Mostly because 3/4 of our culture deals with food. The rest is football. But that's the next post.*
You probably already enjoy some Southern foods. Krispy Kreme donuts are Southern. KFC is, too. (And I ask you, "See why we are all fat????") We have tons of Waffle Houses and Bojangles here, too. Bojangles is like KFC, but better. Popeye's is another KFC competitor. And so is Church's -- obviously, we are pretty keen on fried chicken down here. Fried anything, really. At the state fair, you can get fried candy bars, fried oreos.....really, pretty much anything.
There must be a law which states, "Any gathering of four or more people, whether for business or pleasure, requires food to be served." -- It's not on the books, but it might as well be. Meeting? There's donuts. Your secretary's assistant's birthday? There's a cake. It's Friday? Someone brought chex mix. Going over to a friend's house just to see how she's doing? Yeah, she's going to feed you. Church? Tables of food spread out after service. See what I'm saying? And people wonder why SC is known for having overweight people. It's because we eat ALL THE TIME. Everyone from your mom to your neighbors to complete strangers are always trying to feed you. When I started writing this post, trying to think of Southern culture, I had a hard time thinking of non-food-related items. No joke.
If you ask for "tea", it's assumed you mean "ice tea" and it will be pre-sweetened. HEAVILY sweetened. With real sugar. Some places do not even have "unsweet" tea. You have to ask for it.
If someone asks you if you'd like a "Coke", they mean "a drink". So you have to specify. You can say "Oh, a diet Pepsi would be great!", "Miller Lite, please" or whatever. Just don't get upset if they say there is no alcohol in the house. A lot of people here are strict Baptists who don't drink. Oh, and ladies drink their beer from glasses, not bottles or cans. (Well, that's "old school", anyway.)
If I were to say "Southern Food", the first thing most of you would think of, after fried chicken, is probably BBQ. First things first. Down here, if you say, "We're having a BBQ at our house on Saturday!" and you invite your friends over, you'd better have some shredded pork laying around. Because if you're planning on serving burgers and hot dogs, you should be calling it a "cookout" or a "grill out". BBQ = piggy parts. No exceptions.
So, how does BBQ work? What all is involved in this process? First of all, never say, "Such-and-such restaurant has the best BBQ in town!" because you will inevitably get into an argument with everyone in the room. Everyone has a different favorite. Trust me, just don't go there. No one wins those arguments. Just ask where a good BBQ place is and listen to the locals. And don't get freaked out if the restaurant is full of flies or is dirty or greasy-spoon-ish. Those are usually the best ones. Trust me.
I would say that any authentic BBQ place is going to be buffet. Usually, it's all you can eat for between $6-10. And they probably don't take credit cards. I'll talk about what's on the buffet in a second. Let's talk about the star of the show first: the pig.
BBQ in the South, unless you are from Texas or Kansas, means pork. (Catfish is our other white meat, in case you're wondering.) We don't typically do beef BBQ here in the coastal states. Most places will BBQ a pig. A whole pig. Sometimes, it's smoked in a smoker. Sometimes it's cooked over a pit. It takes a long time. Several hours. Which is why there's always beer -- you drink as you wait for the pig to cook. Then, they shred most of the meat (ie, make it all stringy by ripping it apart). That's what goes on your sandwich/plate and gets doused with sauce. They also make BBQ ribs from the pig. Actually, just about every part of a pig is used up by the end, whether it's made into hash, pig's feet or whatever. More on hash in a second.
Big parties down here sometimes have what's called a "pig pickin'". When you go to a pig pickin', you will see a pig carcass. But that's good. The BBQ is super fresh and yummy. And since pig pickins feed crowds, there is going to be a lot of side dishes. Pig pickins are a good time. I would never turn down an invite to one of those.
Ok, what goes with shredded pork? First, sauce. Sauce is put into the meat after it's shredded, and before it goes on your plate. Then, you put more sauce on it before you eat it. (We are big on sauces here.) Now, there are several kinds of sauces. If you live in TN or TX, you have red sauce. This is ketchup-based. It's also what non-Southerners mean when they say "BBQ sauce". A lot of Texans don't put sauce on their beef BBQ, btw. Beef BBQ doesn't usually get sauce. It gets rubbed. But I'm not a Texan, so that's all I'm going to say about that.
If you live in NC, you have vinegar-based sauce. It is clear and colorless and often has red pepper flakes in it. It can be spicy and/or tangy. It's pretty good, too. If you live here in SC, you will see the yellow sauce. This kind is mustard-based. It's usually milder and sweeter than the others. Sometimes you'll see orange-colored sauce. I don't know what's in it, but it's good, too. I think it's a variation of the mustard sauce. In general, you can't go wrong. They all taste good.
I don't know what kind of sauce they use in GA, LA, AR, AL or MS. (Readers, help me!) I've heard Alabama uses mayo in their sauce. And LA has a lemony sauce. Don't know if that's correct, though.
Some places serve BBQ sandwiches on hamburger buns. In other places, you just get the meat directly on your plate, and you eat it with a fork. Also on the buffet, you will see: baked beans, mac n cheese, green beans, coleslaw, hush puppies (these are balls of sweet cornbread dough, deep fried. Often they have little onion bits in them. Crispy on the outside, sweet n oniony on the inside. They are friggin delicious. So delicious, that I always wrap some up in napkins and stick them in my purse to take with me.)....what else....
Sometimes you'll see collards or black eyed peas. Sometimes cornbread. Often you'll have fried chicken. Biscuits and grits make an appearance on buffets from time to time. Sometimes fried okra. Butter beans or creamed corn on occasion. I get excited when I see sweet potato casserole on the buffet. It kicks ass. As my dad would say, "Tastes just like candy!"
It is assumed that after you eat BBQ, your dessert will be banana pudding. That's just what it is. (Unless you are at a pot luck/church supper, in which case, it might be cake. In addition to banana pudding.) And it will be the best dang banana pudding you've ever had in your whole life. Man, I think they put crack in it down here....oh, sometimes you'll see peach cobbler on the buffet, too. But banana pudding is always there.
We don't have potatoes on the menus here. Well, we do, just not that often. We like mashed potatoes as much as everyone else. But our standard carbohydrate is rice. In a restaurant, if the menu says something comes with rice, you will need some clarification. White rice? Yellow rice? Red rice? Brown rice? Is it made with chicken stock? Is there gravy on it? Or hash?
Let's talk about hash for a second. Hash is found only in SC. And no, it's not like corned beef hash. It's nothing like it, actually. Basically, after you are done BBQing the pig, and you have shredded all the yummy meat off it, you chop up whatever's left over (organ meats, dark meat, mystery meat), cook it, and make it into a soupy, lumpy gravy. Then it's served over rice. Unless you know what you are doing, do not attempt to eat this junk. You have to grow up with it in order to find it appetizing. Personally, it makes me want to barf. Mostly because it looks like barf. Hash is for professionals, so don't try it at home.
Southerners eat collard greens, turnip greens or mustard greens. When uncooked, these veggies look like dark lettuce. They are boiled within an inch of their life, so they're mushy. Some people make them better than others. And when they're made right, they are really good. Kind of like how green beans are cooked with bacon pieces, and you can taste the bacon in it. Yeah. Like that. See? It's good. You should try it. Just get a good recommendation first. And if you want to make them at home, put an unshelled walnut in the pot as it's boiling or else your house will smell like greens. Ew. It's not a good smell, trust me.
We don't have goose or turkey for Christmas dinner. We have venison. If you've never had it, you should try it. It's like really lean, dark chicken meat. Very tasty. If you're from Virginia, like me, you might luck out and get a Smithfield ham for Christmas. This is not any ordinary ham, people. It is basically a block of salt, made to look like a ham. Ok, not really. It is meat. But dang, it is so freakin' salty. It is not juicy and light pink like a honey ham. It's not spiral-sliced, and there's no pineapple on it. It is dry and tough and dark red. You need a big, copper ham cooker in order to make it. It is fantastic if you slice it up and put the slices on little dinner rolls, with some mayonnaise. Mmmm! Approximately an hour after you eat it, you will feel you're dying of thirst, so you'll go to the kitchen and drink 3 gallons of water as fast as you can. Then you'll go eat more because, man, it's good stuff. The next day, your eyes will be all puffy from the salt.
Mayonnaise. Up north, it's Yankees vs. Red Sox. Down here, it's Duke's vs. Hellman's. You either come from a Hellman's family or a Duke's family. I happen to come from a Duke's family, which made it difficult when we lived in Indianapolis, as Duke's is not sold up there. Czarina had to special-order it by the case. Along with grits, which also were not sold up there.
We love us some mayo-based salads down here: potato, macaroni, crab, shrimp, egg, chicken...you name it. We make it into salad. Before eating it, people will ask you which mayo you used in it.
Down here, you have to keep your bread in the refrigerator or else it will get moldy after about 2 days. Also, you MUST hermetically seal anything sweet or else you'll get ants in your house. At times, I have kept my sugar in the fridge to avoid ant infestations.
Some Southern foods are rarely seen, but I know someone, somewhere down here is eating them, because I hear about it: squirrel, rabbit, pickled pig's feet, pork rinds, chit'lins, livermush and possum.
Some foods, like the Smithfield ham, are very localized.
For example, in SC, when you're on the coast (aka the Lowcountry), you want to try and find some Low Country Boil Down. This is made by getting a really REALLY big pot, bringing a bunch of water to a boil, and throwing in the following: red potatoes, corn on the cob, sliced kielbasa sausage, live blue crabs, shrimp and a bunch of Old Bay seasoning. Then you boil it all together, then drain out the water and go to town. It's very messy. Mmmmmm. Also on the coast you'll find oyster roasts and she-crab soup, which has a touch of sherry in it, if it's made properly.
In Virginia, peanut capital of the planet, we have peanut soup. Imagine runny, salty peanut butter. Yeah, I don't really like it. But Czarina loves it. It's hard to find.
In Louisiana, you can find lots of cajun food, which is scrumptious. They eat crawfish (aka crawdads) and gumbo. Good stuff. Also, they have pralines. OMG I dream of pralines: brown sugar, butter, pecans....*sigh* They really know food in LA. They also put chicory in their coffee, I think. It's good.
Kentucky has Mint Juleps and burgoo. I've never had burgoo, but it sounds like Brunswick Stew (see below). Mint juleps are full of bourbon, which is why my dad loved them. This is another highly sweetened, iced drink.
Only certain parts of the South (I think it's only found in VA and NC) have Brunswick Stew, a tomato-broth based stew with corn, lima beans, okra, shredded chicken, hot sauce and tomatoes in it. The Czarina has a fantastic recipe for this. It's low cal and filling. Served with cornbread. MAN. Good stuff.
Oh, I know another one. We are really big on boiled peanuts in the South. I'm not keen on them, but everyone else loves them. Very salty and mushy. Ick. Extremely popular snack.
If someone is bringing you a cake, you can assume it's a homemade pound cake. Box mix cakes are for when you're in a hurry, or if only kids are going to eat it. If someone's bringing you a pie, you can assume it's probably pecan or sweet potato, both of which are scrumptious. Peach pie is also very popular.
What else....oh yeah. If you order any of the following foods, you should assume they will be served to you fried: okra, zucchini, potatoes, chicken, green tomatoes, catfish, and shrimp. And if they're made "right", they are fried in bacon grease.
Let's talk breakfast. A typical Southern breakfast includes all or most of the following: eggs, bacon, grits, toast, biscuits, sausage, biscuits and sausage gravy, ham with red eye gravy and coffee or iced tea. Sometimes you'll see home fries or hashbrowns. If you're lucky, pancakes. Things like fruit or cereal or yogurt are not Southern.
Other foods you won't see/can't get/won't like down here include: Chinese food (ugh, we have terrible Chinese food here), decent pizza, Russian, German, Polish, Japanese, really good Italian (actually, it's just hard to find), French (unless you're in LA), Spanish, Portuguese and really, anything too exotic. So yes, Ethiopian is totally out of the question.
No one here knows what Cincinnati chili is. No one's ever heard of a pierogi. We probably have no idea what we are doing in the steak department. Cod and halibut are unheard of here. If you say "brown bread" then everyone thinks you're talking about whole wheat bread, not the molasses-based kind which is steamed and full of raisins. Few people make decent chili.
I can't speak for other Southern cities, but we have fantastic Mexican, Greek and Thai food here in Columbia. So there is hope. We're expanding, slowly. I think there's a Lebanese restaurant here somewhere.
Southern cuisine is by far my favorite, so I really enjoy that aspect of living here. But I miss frozen custard, beer and cheese soup, good pizza, Cincinnati chili, good Chinese takeout and schnitzel. I discovered all of these when I lived in Indiana. Oh well. I guess I can always find an online recipe.
Hungry? You should feel prepared to visit the South and get some decent vittles, now. Or at least know what the heck is going on.
Please add any comments about what I've said. Correct me if I'm wrong--RWA and Charming and any other Southern readers. Ask me any questions about all of this. If you want, I can try and find recipes for you, too. Next up: Football & Church.