Food Regions of America-Where Do you Draw The Lines?
- bbqboy Apr 15, 2011 12:43 PM
Inspired by the the regional foods gone wrong thread,
and Bill Hunt's explanation of the Deep South-
"It is a broad culinary region of the US, but not really tied together. Think Low-Country cuisine vs that of NOLA. It is a geographical region, but does not include Texas, or Florida, though they seem to fit in, when one is looking at a map. Last, it is a state of mind.
If one does the geography and the math, it is an area of the US, that is about the size of Western Europe, and while there are culinary ties, it is almost as diverse.
In very general terms, it is a cuisine, that is based heavily on the land and the sea. Being poorer, and without the distribution networks of the North, especially the NE, the cuisine is true to the earth, and to the water. It was about what was available with little trade, beyond perhaps spices - though many were indigenous to the region too.
The cuisines differ by the country of origin of the settlers, plus also the contributions of the Native Americans of the areas. Add in the slave trade, and one interjected African, Caribbean, and other groups, plus the cuisine of the traders, Dutch, French, English, Spanish and several others. The countries that claimed each segment of the Deep South added their culture, whether French, Spanish, English, etc. Both Biloxi, MS and New Orleans, LA, are two great examples of these influences. That said, if one goes 20 miles inland from either, things change greatly, yet they fall into my definition of the Deep South. There are similarities, but also many differences too.
If one only knows the cuisine of say Coastal Mississippi, and New Orleans, as did I, then they would not find THAT many ties with Tidewater Carolina/Virginia. They might even seem totally dissimilar, but upon study, one would see that it was just a different geography, and also culture.
Though they are not separated by THAT many miles, there is a great difference between Cajun cuisine, and what would be known as traditional New Orleans cuisine. Some elements of the former DID find their way into the latter, but it was not always that way. Even today, many cannot make the correct connection between those two, different cuisines. They think that NOLA is equal to Cajun. It is not. NOLA cuisine has more Parisian French influences, while Cajun has more Canadian French influences. New Orleans has Spanish influences, while Cajun has few. Same for English influences. Also, New Orleans was a world port, so many things came into the city, through trade. The Cajun country was limited, and the practitioners were limited by the ingredients grown on hummocks, raised on those hummocks, or gathered from the bayous. Only miles apart in geographical terms, but much farther apart in culinary terms.
I think that typifies my ideal of the Deep South. There is much more, but that gets into the "state of mind," mentioned earlier.
So where do you live and where do you think the divisions are?
Have they changed in the last 10 years?
Do they even really exist anymore?
The longer you spend time in a particular area the more diversity you can find inside of it. You can say 'French' cuisine in the same way you can say 'Southern', and there is just as much regional variation in each when you start digging.
I disagree about not including Texas and Florida in the Southern region for food purposes. Both have a lot of Spanish and Latino influence, and Florida has a lot of Caribbean influence as well, but there are large chunks of both states where the diets are very similar to what you would see in Alabama, Georgia, or Mississippi.
I live in the part of Florida that is also known as Lower Alabama (aka the Panhandle) so you'd think it would be Southern, but since no one really lived here before the Army Air Corps set up camp here in the late 1930s, (okay, county population was about 5K back then) the indigenous cuisine really isn't particular Southern, though some of the use of seafood is pretty similar.
Greater Ft. Walton Beach seems to have its own little micro-region because of this. A couple generations of Air Force guys marrying Thai/Filipino/Japanese/Korean women and then bringing them (and in some cases their extended families) here for their retirement years means that I can find bitter melon in a half dozen different places but you have to drive out of town to a more old Southern city in order to find a proper crawfish boil in season.
I live in Southern California and the Mexican food we have here is different from that in San Francisco, or any place east and is most definitely different from Tex-Mex
I'm not sure how foodways follow dialects (my suspicion is that both varyr at different rates), but here's an interesting map of N American dialects, showing distinct regions within the southern/southeastern US. Fascinating site. Maybe one could so the same for foods--linguists have mapped multiple variations in the names of (similar) foods.