Sometimes the best way to understand your own culture is to see it through someone else’s eyes. Americans can experience this by listening to Food Trippin’, a new podcast that follows London-based journalist Anastasia Miari as she drives (and eats) her way from North Carolina to Texas.
Across eight episodes, Miari eats everything from pancakes in the Outer Banks to deviled eggs in New Orleans. Here, she gives us a taste of the insights she gained along the way:
Sean Brock is the man credited with redefining comfort food in the Southern states of America. “Most people have this idea of Southern food being unhealthy and greasy and calorie heavy, but it’s so much more than that,” he says, while pouring steaming broth into a bubbling bowl in front of me.
We’re in his farmhouse kitchen, deep in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, and the James Beard Award-winning chef is carefully cleaning green beans and delicately plating up his homemade preserves. He made his name in 2010 when he opened the first outpost of Husk, in Charleston – one of four in a chain of game-changing restaurants.
I’m at the start of a road trip across the states of the Deep South, driving my ant of a car along highways of mega trucks, hoping for that serendipitous meeting of empty belly and perfect plateful, and seeking a true taste of Southern hospitality.
I was ready for stodgy mac and cheese, greasy burgers and indecently saucy ribs. And while those are certainly options, I’ve found plenty of stereotype-busting menus along the way, showing how the cooking has taken on a gourmet twist, without sacrificing any of its satisfying qualities.
Take hominy grits – a ground corn dish introduced by the Muscogee. When I get to Nashville‘s Husk, I find it’s given new life with a tomato sugo and juicy shrimps sauteed in lashings of butter and lemon, topped with delicate microgreens. Gritty? No. Delicious? Absolutely.
In fact, everywhere I travel – over six weeks and across ten states – there are surprises, from delightful morsels in roadside diners, to the results of marathon all-night cookouts from prize-winning pit-masters. I fall in love with the humble devilled egg – an iconic snack that African American motorists came to rely on at a time when most diners and the like were off-limits. At plush, red-velvet-lined Bar Marilou in New Orleans, they’re filled with puffed rice and spring onions for a textural explosion in every bite. In Texas, Zachary Ladwig at Dos Brisas serves up heavenly crab sandwiches with thick mayo, triple-baked chips and herbs from the garden. At Olamaie in Austin, I dive into the softest, most moreish biscuits I’ve ever tasted. Olamaie reopens this month with a new chef, Amanda Turner, who used lockdown to explore Southern cuisine, while Sean Brock’s moved on to Audrey, in Nashville, named after his grandma and inspired by his Appalachian roots.
These chefs are preserving heritage in the most comforting of dishes, and subverting preconceived notions about Southern fare in the process.
Food Trippin’ is available on Spotify, iTunes, and foodtrippinpodcast.com.
Next Up: Louisville’s New Southern Cuisine