The United States is a nation diverse in peoples and geography. Both of these contribute to some amazing regional cuisine. Thanks to the Covid pandemic, there’s been an increased focus on regional American cuisine. People are taking road trips instead of flying. They are increasingly exploring the nuances of their cuisines close to home or what they’ve experienced on the road. Regionality within certain items, like barbecue sauce, has been something we’ve had our eyes on for a while. Now we’re expecting to see some regional American cuisines flourish due to additional consumer exposure. You should expect to see more Sonoran and Gullah influences on menus soon.
With it being Black History Month, it felt like a good time to celebrate the resilience of the Gullah people who kept their culture alive through their cuisine, that now radiates throughout the south, despite being taken from their home (for a more robust history go here). The Gullah Cuisine, originating from West Africa, made its way to the Southern States when slaves from West Africa were taken to coastal South Carolina and Georgia rice plantations. Staples of the cuisine include rice, okra, collard greens, grits, local seafood, and stewed vegetables. Both southern cooking and soul food have roots tied to Gullah cuisine. Travel has aided its growth, but modern consumer desires have also been a boon. Gullah cuisine is noted for its use of fresh, seasonal, and local ingredients.
A personal favorite of mine is Hoppin’ John. It’s catching on with consumers too as its grown 21% on menus over the past four years according to Datassential. The dish includes black-eyed peas and bacon over a bed of Carolina rice and some greens. I love mine with a little kick, so I add some hot sauce to it. It’s become a family tradition to bring good luck to the New Year. Unfortunately, we didn’t kick 2021 off with Hoppin’ John. In retrospect, maybe some of the mess we’ve had so far this year falls on my shoulders.
Winter is an especially hard time to be in the Midwest. Every day is seemingly gray. Not only that, but you can’t get any good collard greens. The tradition of slow cooking vegetables in a pot for hours is another part of Gullah cuisine. I always have to get my fill of good collards when in the south or make them at home. Slow cooking them with bacon and then adding vinegar is always a delight.
Frogmore Stew is a Gullah dish with a strange name. I bet you’ve seen this one or maybe even had it under a different name. It’s more commonly known as a Lowcountry Boil. For those of you still unfamiliar, take shrimp, ears of corn, potatoes, and andouille sausage and boil it all up with some seasoning. I’m hungry just thinking about it.
If these staples don’t tickle your fancy, there’s sure to be something you’ve had recently that’s tied to Gullah cuisine. We should expect to see more of this cuisine on menus across the country. As we’ve discussed previously, its cousin from West Africa will also be growing.
This regional American cuisine hails from Arizona and it looks tasty enough that I’ve started planning my trip. It’s tied to the Sonoran Desert. As with Gullah cuisine, the focus is on using fresh, seasonal ingredients from the area. Sonoran cuisine is similar to Mexican, but with some distinct differences. Most of those differences are with the ingredients. The flour tortilla is a staple because historically the area was rich in wheat harvests. Beef is often the protein of choice, as cattle ranching was common in the region. All the other staples – mesquite, cactus, chiltepin, and tepary beans are local crops.
I have yet to try this dish. The first time I see it on the menu, I’m ordering it. It is blistered peppers filled with ground shrimp served with a side of soy sauce for dipping. The story goes that it’s a result of Chinese immigrants that settled in Northern Mexico. Their native Chinese flavors mixed with the local ingredients to create something unique. If that’s not the story of each regional American cuisine, I don’t know what is.
Chiltepins are a wild variety of peppers that are native to Arizona and Northern Mexico. Whenever I learn of a new pepper, I have to learn how hot it is. The answer according to some experts is 6 to 40 times hotter than a jalapeno. For me, that means I’d need to use it sparingly. Their flavor is smoky and earthy and unlike most peppers, they pack their punch up front. This sounds like one versatile pepper. Again, I’m planning my Arizona trip in my head.
Sonoran Hot Dog
I couldn’t complete this blog without covering the Sonoran Hot Dog. The Sonoran Hot Dog is a bacon wrapped hot dog with bean schmear and a load of toppings. I am going to devour one of these, and then stop everything to take a nap.
Regional American cuisine is primed for growth. Americans are getting introduced to new items via road trips and are taking an interest in some of the idiosyncrasies that make regional cuisines great. Gullah and Sonoran cuisines both are expected to grow because of their exciting flavors and use of local, fresh, seasonal ingredients. Gullah cuisine has already helped influence Southern and Soul food. Sonoran cuisine is similar to Mexican cuisine, which we’ve already highlighted for its popularity. We are expecting to see growth in more regional American cuisines throughout 2021. Hopefully you get the chance to enjoy one.