It’s no secret that people in the Carolinas love to serve up hearty servings of classic Southern delicacies, like gravy-covered cookies or savory fried green tomatoes. But it’s also no secret that those born above the Mason-Dixon line may think these decades-old traditional Southern dishes are just plain weird.
Southern Living recently released this list of delicious Southern dishes that the rest of the world might find gross. We politely disagree. I mean, come on – chicken fried steak? What’s not to like about that? And the okra? No trip to New Orleans is complete without a bowl of Louisiana’s famous stew.
In fairness, the author of this article was born and raised in Charlotte and grew up on fried chicken and boiled peanuts. But in the spirit of fairness, we’ve reviewed the list at length and recognized that foods that include the word “liver” may not be suitable for everyone.
Here’s a deeper dive into the history of five weird dishes you can find in the South, along with some pointers on where you might find such cuisines locally.
According to Serious Eats, the hot, sweet and salty treat has been a Southern staple since the colonial era. West African slaves boiled peanuts and their white Southerners served them as party food. It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that they became a popular dish for small town weddings and other social events.
By the 1920s, it had become an “epidemic”, with sellers of boiled peanuts popping up everywhere. And by World War II, the candies were a Southern icon in their own right. In 2006, boiled peanuts were made South Carolina’s official state snack.
Where to find them: These days, traditional boiled peanuts, as well as boiled Cajun peanuts, are commonly sold at roadside stands and gas stations. You can usually find them at a local 7-11 store or take a trip just across the border to buy some at the Peach Stand in Fort Mill.
Peasant fried rib steak
Also called chicken fried steak, this breaded and fried dish is believed to have originated in Texas, where German and Austrian immigrants adapted the wiener schnitzel dish. It is prepared by immersing a thin slice of steak in egg batter or buttermilk, then coating it in flour, salt and pepper. It is then fried and served with a thick, creamy sauce on top.
Where to find it: A TripAdvisor review of La’Wan’s Soul Food restaurant in South Tryon describes its country fried steak as “the real star of the show” with crisp breading and juicy steak. The dish is also a Cracker Barrel favorite.
Fried chicken gizzards
This one just sounds gross. The gizzard is a thick, muscular organ found in the chicken’s digestive tract. It has a rich, chewy texture and a dark meat taste. They are usually served as a side dish with legs, wings, bread and hot sauce.
Gizzards are not unique to the South, however, as grilled gizzards are sold as street food in Haiti and throughout Southeast Asia. Other countries serve them mowed, boiled or stewed. But Southerners have perfected the art of fried gizzards. We can’t pinpoint the exact date that fried gizzards first appeared, but we can guess around the mid-1800s when fried chicken started showing up all over American cookbooks.
Where to find it: According to Yelp, the best place to find fried chicken gizzards in Charlotte is Mr. Charles Chicken & Fish, which serves them fried in the restaurant’s signature seasoned breading.
Grilled green tomatoes
It’s not just a Hollywood movie title. This Southern dish calls for unripe green tomatoes, sliced and dipped in a cornmeal batter for frying. But according to Smithsonian Magazine, their Southern origins might surprise you.
The dish is believed to have been brought to the United States in the 19th century by Jewish immigrants, first appearing on the culinary scene in the Northeast and Midwest. They weren’t popular in the South until the 1987 release of the book “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café” and the movie that followed.
Where to find it: Foursquare lists Plaza Midwood’s Dish restaurant as the #1 place for fried green tomatoes in Charlotte. It’s the first item on the Dish menu – as a signature dish – and is served as an appetizer with horseradish and dill sauce or on its burgers and sandwiches.
Livemush (or really, anything with the word ‘liver’ in it)
This southern dish of yesteryear is getting all the reaction from northerners. According to CarolinaCountry.com, the mash of pork liver, leftover pork, cornmeal and spices likely came south with German settlers from Pennsylvania. It became a staple in rural counties with textile mills and factories, where workers needed ready-made food that was both tasty and affordable.
Where to find it: OnlyInYourState.com recommends livermush at Brooks Sandwich House in NoDa. His simple foie gras sandwich is served with onions, mustard and chilli.