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Ancestral Cooking Forum

How Gullah Cuisine transformed dining

How Gullah Cuisine Has Transformed Charleston Dining

There’s no denying the allure of Charleston's dining scene. Declared the "best city in North America" by Travel + Leisure and profiled not once but twice by Anthony Bourdain, first on No Reservations and then again on the most recent season of Parts Unknown, the city has been attracting food-loving visitors in droves, contributing to a multi-billion dollar tourism industry.

But while Charleston restaurants are heaped with praise upon praise, award upon award, there's a deeper story here than just an American city with an outsized food scene. "With the attention given to Mike Lata and Sean Brock, none of the places that people go to first in Charleston are African-American owned," says DC-based culinary historian Michael Twitty. Indeed the rise of the Charleston restaurant scene in the last 20 years has coincided with a gentrification that's brought with it higher residential and commercial rents, and changed the demographics of the city from being over 60 percent black in the ‘80s to being only roughly 30 percent black as of the 2014 census. Amid these changes, there's been a vital constant: the cuisine of the Gullah people, the local descendants of West Africans brought to South Carolina as slaves.

There are some noticeable patterns in and hallmarks of Gullah cooking. It is inextricably tied to the land, the sea, and the seasons. Coming up on spring, ingredients like fresh squash, zucchini, and sweet peas will find their way onto plates. Rice and benne seeds make frequent appearances. Locally available seafood plays a starring role in dishes like crab rice, conch stew (actually northern whelk), okra soup, head-on fried whiting, and purloo, a one-pot meal of rice and any variety of add-ins — vegetables (like the popular okra), shellfish (shrimp, crab, and oysters), and meat or sausage.

" Amid these changes, there’s been a vital constant: the cuisine of the Gullah people."
While the ingredients reflect the Gullah people's location in South Carolina, the origins of these dishes goes back way back. "One of the things that I've tried to emphasize for academics and American media is that no, these dishes did not start in 1619, with the arrival of enslaved people to North America," Twitty says. "These dishes and this culture go back thousands of years into West African history."

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It's an interesting article! :) t.b.

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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