According to the Census Bureau, the South consists of Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. Delaware...really? Anyway, the food is one of the greatest things about living in the south. For one, you don't leave hungry, two, a lot of the food experiences are communal or family and friends oriented, and it is comfort food through and through.
1. Crawfish Boil (can include crabs/shrimp/other seafood)
Whether outside or inside, the set-up is the same. Tables are spread far and wide with newspaper/black garbage bags (which will help with the clean up later), large 10 gallon sized trashcans, silver collection bowls, or literal holes drilled into the table help collect the cracked shells. Add to that, pounds and pounds of an endless buffet of heavily seasoned crawfish (and other seafood) still in the shell, potatoes, sausage, and corn with a side of beer.
This experience is not for dainty delicate ones; no knife and fork here. It's for people who get in there elbows deep snapping and cracking the mud bugs, sucking out the heads, living for the tail meat, drilling through their corn (ignoring the potatoes---everyone knows they fill you up too fast), and only taking a break every once in a pound or two, to take a sip of beer or enjoy a slice of sausage. Think about this experience like being a worker bee in a beehive. When you stop moving, you get trampled over and left behind. If you think you're going to go to a crawfish boil and eat "leisurely" you're going to be going home hungry because it is an intense all hands on deck and on the seafood situation where time waits for no man. You eat what you can crack, and if you can't crack fast enough, well, you aren't going to be eating very much.
2. Fish Fry
Not to be confused with a crawfish boil, a fish fry is what the name suggests. A bunch of fried fish, made that much better if fresh caught after a long morning out on the water which most of the South is close to. Staples include catfish, shrimp, and oysters alongside fries, hush puppies, cole slaw, beans and white bread (do NOT serve wheat under any circumstance). If you're smart, you'll stand as close to the fryer as possible so when the fish is fresh out the grease, it's straight onto your plate and into your mouth!
There is an art to who can fry the fish as well. You don't want anyone on the fryer who doesn't know the difference between hard fried and soft. Hard fried will leave the meat tough to where you have to gnaw on it a bit. Soft fry is very delicate, like the meat is just a few hairs past the raw point, but that makes the meat tender and easy to enjoy. In the South if you are a hard fryer, everyone knows it, and you'll be on the sidelines next fry if you can't handle the responsibility.
There is no Southern BBQ where some kind of verbal fight doesn't break out, especially if there are Southerners from different states in attendance. No matter what state you are from, you will swear your BBQ is the best and you will argue this point until you are red in the face if challenged. Ribs, sausage, chicken, brisket, burnt ends, yaassss! This is a no George Foreman grills allowed situation. Let's be real, anyone can throw some meat on the grill and get a result, but if you want the legendary stuff, if you aren't going to an old fat black man or an old fat white man, or his apprentices doing the grilling, you're in the wrong place. Not saying skinny people, or other races, or women can't do legendary BBQ, just saying, I bet they were trained by an old fat guy.
REAL BBQ takes hours and hours to make. It's not done in 2 hours. Grill masters are up before the crack of the crack of dawn stoking fires, and adding their secret set of seasonings to their meats if they weren't already seasoned the night before. It's an intense all day process where they are standing by the grill, make sure all the meat is done just right, and then hitting it with that special BBQ sauce they make themselves. Do not, I repeat, do not ask if you can taste the meat ahead of time, or if you can join in on the grilling process, or think you can just touch stuff like lifting a lid up to check and see. Stay away. Let that old fat guy and his buddies he has deputized to help with the grilling, do their thing.
4. The best pies, puddings, and cobblers in life
It is best you never inquire whether a Southern pie is low fat. You might get sets of narrowing eyes darted in your direction. No the Southern pie is where diabetes, high cholesterol, and Heaven collide. Made from anything from fresh fruit, to chocolate, to cream, to everything in between, some very Southern classics pies are Pecan, Mississippi Mud, Key Lime, Chess, Sweet Potato, Buttermilk, Coconut Creme, and Buttermilk. Add to that peach and black berry coblers and candy bar and banana puddings. Oh yeah.
The fillings for these beauties are generally the easy part, but it's all about getting the crust right. It shouldn't be too hard or too crumbly, or too pale or too dark. You need a nice flake, a nice brown color, and to make it not too thin or too thick to where it's not enough or overwhelms the filling. Most people in the South know a pie lady or have a favorite pie shop on tap should the need arise, or mom/grandma who's been making them since she was a toddler. Occasionally you'll get some young blood in the kitchen who wants to spice things up by changing around the recipes or adding extra ingredients, but don't make this your entry at this years Thanksgiving feast, or you will feel the wrath of all involved. They are classics for a reason, and the reason is the pies, puddings, and cobblers are perfect as is.
5. Soul Food/Sunday Dinner
Sunday dinners have been a sacred institution in the South since there was even a South to speak of. Sunday, right after church, someone, usually a grand mother or older aunt, or your mother spent all day in the kitchen preparing a feast almost akin in scope to what you might find at the Christmas dinner table. Fried chicken, cornbread, mashed potatoes, mac n' cheese, greens, corn, smothered pork chops, okra, meat loaf, sweet potatoes, black eyed peas, roast, gravy, fresh rolls, you name it.
This was and is a weekly gathering of family on ones day of rest, meant to really and truly nourish your body and your soul. There is nothing like family, and there is nothing like experiencing a true Sunday Dinner or the soul food that comes along with it in the South.