Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ginger Dishes on Southern Cuisine

Chile Relleno and Tamale Combo
Since moving to Tennessee, six years ago, I've had to alter my taste buds. My favorite food for years has been Mexican, but Mexican food here is made with white cheese instead of the yellow cheese I've come to love and expect in California.  When you order a Chile Relleno, Tennessee style, you get a weird dish that excuse the description, looks like it's already been eaten and regurgitated--a chile covered with a hamburgery cheese sauce that to me, is disgustingly rich and pretty yukky. 

If you order a Chile Relleno in California, you get a stuffed chile (various types, but often a jalapeno with the seeds removed, deep fried and covered with sauce.  Here in Tennessee, if you want that particular dish, you must order a Chile Poblano. I've got it straight now, so I can get what I want, but they still don't taste as good as in California.  I've yet to find a salsa that compares with Chevy's Restaurants (of which there are none here), and no one seems to have mastered guacamole.  My favorite time of the year is when tomatoes are freshly ripe and my hubby makes our own salsa.  His is the best, and if you add it to mashed avocados, you get the guacamole I'm yearning for. There are lots of Mexican establishments here, but not very many measure up to my standards...and I'm really not all that picky.

While I might have trouble finding a great taco, what is offered in abundance here is gravy.  Seems everything comes with a side bowl.  You can even get chocolate gravy, which I haven't tasted because the concept leaves me cold.  Grits is another popular side, and get ready for some weird stares if you add sugar to them.  Every southerner knows you add two pats of butter, usually in a depression in the center so the heat of the grits will melt the spread, then add salt and pepper.  Some even like adding cheese.  Biscuits and gravy is the breakfast of champions here...sometimes with a side of grits.

Try ordering "sweet" tea outside the southern states.  You get a weird look from the server, who'll point you to a container holding packets of sugar and artificial sweeteners.  On the other hand, if you order just "tea" here, you'll get sweet tea unless you specifically request the unsweetened version.  I guess I should also mention that according to grammar experts, sweettea is all one word here.  :)

I've also discovered there is very little that isn't fried in the south.  Almost everything is coated with flour and pan-fried, sometimes with bacon grease added to give a little more flavor.  The surgeon general might have issued a warning against everything eaten in the South, but if you check the obituaries, you notice people here live to a ripe old age.  One item you're likely to find in almost every kitchen:  a cast iron skillet.

Oh, and just in case you plan to shop for food in the local grocery, you'll be needing a "buggy" instead of a cart. 


Anita Davison said...

I'm with you on Mexican food - though I have never reconciled myself to re-fried beans or guacamole [Yeuck] I love chilli, and carry a pot of dried chillies in my bag ready to throw into any bland dish I get served in a restaurant.
Waiters hate me!

Cheryl Norman said...

Exactly why I cook my own Mexican, Ginger. I've yet to find the quality of dishes in Southeast U.S. to compare to the cuisine of, say, Santa Rosa, New Mexico. But don't overlook the fantastic Cajun and Creole dishes of the gulf coast or the flavorful Minorcan dishes (love those Datil peppers!) from Saint Augustine, Florida.

Sheri Fresonke Harper said...

First time I went to the South I gained 15 pounds!

Unknown said...

Wow...refried beans and guacamole are my favorites. Love Tostados because those of two of the best ingredients. Hope you don't get caught with the dried chiles...someone may think it's pot. *lol*

Unknown said...

I'm ashamed to admit I've never had a Cajun or Creole dish. I'm not big on change...I find what I like and stick with it. I've been living on crackers and cheese for months now because of my stomach problems, but I've got to find something else or have to buy bigger sized pants.

Unknown said...

I believe it Sheri. Everything back here is coated in bread, deep fried, or served with a side of gravy. Geesh, they even fry pickles...and I love 'em.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Someday I'll have to make you my guacamole, Ginger! It's incredibly good (I'm not bragging, just telling the truth!)

I'm not a big fan of southern food, but I do remember the first time I went south by myself, in my teens, to visit a relative. I took the bus, and at one stop, somewhere in North Carolina, I ordered lemonade. It took fifteen minutes because the snack bar gal made it from scratch - but it was the most delicious lemonade I've ever tasted.

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