James Phelps Explains the Native Southern Cuisine of North Carolina

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A food critic based out of North Carolina, James Phelps frequently shares insightful reviews of local restaurants and eateries with his online readers. Here, he helps explain the origin of Southern cuisine that is well-known in states such as Tennessee, Georgia, and the Carolinas. 


James Phelps has for years helped readers determine which restaurants were worth their investments in major Southern cities like Charlotte and Charleston. He opens his readers’ eyes to the establishments that embody the local cuisine and offer a one-of-a-kind dining experience. 


“North Carolina sits on the northernmost edge of what we refer to in America as the quintessential Southern states,” says James Phelps. “But it certainly doesn’t lack in Southern cooking.”


Visitors to these states, Phelps says, are sure to encounter an abundance of fried foods, pork-centered dishes, and the sweetest tea anywhere in the country. But where does this cooking style come from? 


“In the south, we have a variety of subsets within Southern cooking based on the cultures that lent these recipes to the people of the traditionally-defined American South,” says James Phelps. “We have Creole food from the French and West African people, Floribbean cuisine from the Spanish and the inhabitants of islands in the Caribbean, and plenty of Tex-Mex from Mexican and Native American cultures.” 


Many of the essential elements of Southern cooking come from southeast Native American tribes like the Caddo, Seminole, and Choctaw people who are indigenous to these lands. This includes squash, corn, and gourds, which are all typically featured at Thanksgiving meals. Sugar, eggs, and milk, which often make an appearance in the cuisine, were borrowed from Europe when colonists first arrived in North America. 


African cultures also contributed greatly to southern cooking, most notably in okra, rice, black-eyed peas, eggplant, and various melons. The Spanish and other settling cultures introduced the Americas to pork and bacon, which still stand as some of the most iconic southern food to date. 


The South’s love of a full breakfast comes from the British full breakfast or fry-up, as does the tendency to fry many of the local foods. Many Southern menus are based on Scottish or Border meals that have been adapted to the subtropical climate of the South. Today, southerners cook frequently with pork, which was once considered taboo in Scotland. However, today it takes the place of lamb and mutton in staple dishes, and grits take the place of chopped oats, though oatmeal is a lot more common in the area today than in generations past.  


“It’s a strange melting pot of cuisines, flavors, and cultures that has solidified into an essential American style of cooking,” says James Phelps. “And North Carolina is chock-full of underrated establishments serving up some of the best Southern cuisine anywhere in America.”