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Lowcountry Cuisine in Charleston

Although you can find Lowcountry cuisine along most of coastal South Carolina all the way down to Savannah, its foundation feeds off the Holy City of Charleston, where, centuries ago, European aristocrats would share kitchens with their African slaves. The result was a colonial European fusion with Caribbean and West African, otherwise known as Gullah, influences.

Shrimp and Grits. If you're not convinced that South Carolina is serious about grits, consider this: in 1976, it declared grits the official state food. To be truly decadent, you need to finish this starch off with heavy cream and a slab of butter. Each chef has his or her own guarded recipe, but traditionally, local wild shrimp is sautéed with onions, garlic, and fresh tomatoes. Today, foodies will delight in discovering the dish to be dressed up with everything from sausage, bacon, and Cajun seasoning to cheese, gravy, and tomato-based sauces.

She-Crab Soup. Rich and creamy, with lumps of crabmeat and a splash of dry sherry, she-crab soup is to the Lowcountry as chowder is to New England. The "she" of this signature dish actually comes from the main ingredient, a female crab's orange crab roe. It is delicious as an appetizer, and quite filling as an entrée.

Hoppin' John. This rice-and-bean concoction is not only a favorite Lowcountry dish but a lucky one at that. Families throughout the Lowcountry prepare hoppin' John on New Year's Day for lunch or dinner in hopes that it will provide them with a year's worth of good luck. It's all in the classic Lowcountry ingredients: black-eyed peas symbolize pennies (a side of collard greens adds to the wealth in the new year). Rice, chopped onions, bacon (or ham), and peppers are added to the peas. Add garnishes like a spoonful of salsa or a dollop of sour cream for an interesting Southwest spin.

Perlau. South Carolina takes great pride in its perlau (aka perloo), more lovingly known at the table as chicken bog. This rice-based dish is cooked with chunks of tender chicken and sausage slices, simmered in the chef's choice of Southern seasonings. For more than 30 years, in fact, the tiny town of Loris has been hosting its annual Loris Bog-Off Festival, where hundreds of chefs compete to be awarded with the best bowl of bog.

Updated: 03-2013

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