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If you are talking about "traditional" or "regional" foods, that would be the likes of fried chicken, okra, squash, butter beans, black-eyed peas, cornbread, etc. Fried chicken, black-eyed peas and okra originated in West and North Africa, and we adopted them during the days of slavery.
Other favorite traditional or regional foods would be barbecue (the pork variety, for the most part) with Brunswick stew (the tomato-based, Southern variety) and seafood from the coasts (Georgia has the world's richest shrimp-fishing grounds).
Sadly and somewhat surprisingly, some of our most hallowed Southern, diner-style restaurants are closing and being replaced by Chinese, Mexican, and Italian restaurants!!!! And I must confess that I myself contribute to this, because, when I dine out, I almost always seek something I consider "non-traditional" !!!
Favorite food of Georgia: SALT (is that a food?). Serously, if you're used to a low salt diet, be forewarned and never, ever, try "strip o'lean"...that's a breakfast meat that as close as I can figure out is something like salt pork. Great for "seasoning" greens, fried by itself it sort of resembles crunchy FRIED SALT.
Fried is very big in Georgia as well. Oddly, though, many restaurants in rural areas offer a LOT of fried items on the menus but then serve margarine. Strange.
As for peas....you wouldn't believe the variety of "field peas"...crowder peas, lady peas, cream peas. There are probably fifty or more types of peas. If you're interested in trying these peas you can find shacks that sell vegetables along the side of roads, small vegetable shops in towns or go to farmers markets. You can always ask around. Where we live sometimes trucks on the side of the road sell field peas in field bags (B-I-G burlap bags).
If you're not from D. South, then what you might know as "peas" (green peas) are called ENGLISH peas. Given the extent of English influence in the South, I can see how the name came to be. It's easy to find them FRESH in early Spring.
IMHO field peas are also best when fresh, not dried. That would be like fresh black-eyed and other types of field or "Southern" peas.
Boiled peanuts seem to be popular as well. You'll find peanut everything: peanut brittle, peanut cakes, peanut butter pie, etc.
South of Atlanta are areas where pecans are grown. If you look around I think you'll be amazed at the varities and level of quality available in pecans. If you can't find fresh pecans, just ask neighbors or the folks at church.
Where I think the cusine of Georgia EXCELS is in the variety of fresh produce. Muscadines are a must try. Think really rich taste that (to me) resembles a good wine rather than "bunch grapes". Muscadines are a type of native grape that grows individually on vines, much like cherries grow on trees, not in bunches like grapes I was used to. You do NOT generally eat the skins. There are many, many varieties. Scuppernongs (though I may be off on the spelling) are from the same family as muscadines, only they are lighter and more citrusy. "Scuplins" is the way they are pronounced down our way. Muscadine grape juice, jams and jellies are great as well.
Greens are very popular. Lots of different varities are available such as turnip greens (often made with part of the turnip root), collards, and I think mustard, etc. Sunday and special occasion meals often include greens.
There are several types of fruits that are native to Georgia. If you look around a bit at places that sell jams and jellies you'll probably see types you've never heard of.
Peaches, peaches, peaches. Oh,yeah and blueberries. A lot of Southern blueberries are called "rabbit eye" because of the way the berries look. If you live in an area where you can grow blueberries, just make sure your soil has the correct acidity, then plant a couple of bushes. They require next to nothing in terms of maintenance.
Fried green tomatoes are also very popular. The taste is kind of citrusy.
Most everyone I know makes turkey or chicken dressing that's unique and quite different from the usual Thanksgiving type dressing.
Also popular are fried sweet potatoes and lots of corn dishes. It's not hard to find fresh ground corn meal, either.
Check out local fish. If you're not from the South you will probably find varieties that you've never tried.
Like anywhere else, food in Georgia is best when homemade, or in resturants that specialize in fixing food in a traditional manner. Try to see if you can visit some of the farmers markets, I really think it's the variety of fresh produce that "makes" Georgia cuisine.
PS Sweet tea is often the preferred beverage. It's nectar to the locals in our neck of the woods. It is very sweet. Think of syrup. In our area iced tea IS sweet tea. If we want "regular" iced tea, we ask for "unsweet tea".
Think Southern - Think Soul Food!
Everything mentioned is right on. Couple of clarifications ...
Grapes: Muscadines are purple; scuppernongs is a variety of muscadines that are more of a bronze color. They are both grapes, but, as mentioned, don't grow in clusters like most grapes. They are also very large. The skin is tough and not eaten. Boy, are they sweet! Usually they are made into jelly.
It is "streak of lean" also called fat back. It is pork and much like bacon only more fat - rather it is fat from the back of the hog and has just a "streak" of lean running through it. You cannot cook greens, peas or beans without it. It is good for breakfast too.
Grits. Do NOT taste of grits in a resturant until they are "fixed." (A mistake most Northerns made which is why they don't like them.) Add butter and plenty of salt, stir well. If they don't melt in your mouth, add more salt. They will not taste salty. Grits are a staple of breakfast, although they are also good for lunch or dinner. Cheese grits are a must with shrimp and other seafood.
Speaking of seafood. A low-country boil, or frogmore stew, is a wonderful dish of shrimp, sausage, potatoes and corn. Very good. Usually found on the coast where the fish is fresh. Shrimp are served fried, grilled or boiled. Boiled shrimp is just like shrimp cocktail except you get to peel them. Just grab hold of the little legs and twist the shell away. Seafood is always served with hushpuppies (sometimes called corndodgers) which is pretty much fried cornbread. You just pick them up and eat them. Delicious!
Barbeque. Barbeque will be different depending on where you are in the state. In the northern sections, barbeque is more likely to be beef and sliced. It is served with potato salad, cole slaw (just called slaw) and bread.
Mid-state, it is chopped pork, served with Brunswick stew - a "stew" of the pork with some corn. In the southern parts, barbeque is definitely chopped pork served with rice and hash. Never ask what is in the hash... you DON"T want to know. It is served on top of white rice and is to die for! You get potato salad, slaw, and all kinds of vegetables with your barbeque.
Understand that there is barbeque, then there is barbeque. If you get barbecue in a resturant that serves other type foods, it is simply meat with barbeque sauce poured over it. Not a good thing. REAL barbeque is cooked slowly over a pit for hours and hours - usually overnight. It doesn't need any sauce. So when you look for barbeque, look for a place that has an outdoor area where they cook the meat. Sauce in Georgia is usually tomato based. On the coast, it is a mustard or vinegar base.
Biscuits. Real ones - not from a can. While still hot from the over, cut them open and put butter in between the halves. When the butter melts, you can add jelly, jam, perserves, honey or syrup. Make you want to slap your Mama! Also fantastic cut open and covered with rich, homemade pan gravy, also called milk gravy. Biscuits are also good cold as a snack. Now the real biscuit eaters "cut butter." You don't butter your biscuit. You put a little butter (REAL butter, OK? A good biscuit deserves nothing but REAL butter.) on a saucer and beside it, pour a little honey or syrup. Then you commence to cut a tiny sliver of butter and mix it in the syrup, then another little sliver and so on until the butter is gone and the syrup is a mixture of pure gold. Put that on your biscuit a bite at a time and you will think you have died and gone to heaven!!
Red-eye gravy. This is also good with biscuits or grits. After you have fried a piece of ham, you will have fat left in the skillet. Pour a little hot, black coffee into the ham grease and you have red-eye gravy. So named, because it will form what looks like "red eyes" in the gravy.
Cornbread. Cornbread is best made with yellow corn meal and buttermilk and cooked in an iron skillet. There are a number of varieties - cornbread (as mentioned,) muffins, corn sticks, fried corn bread - which is corn bread made into pancakes. These are also called hoe cakes. Cornbread is best eaten hot from the over, buttered. You have to have cornbread with greens, beans or peas, (I think it's a law.) although it goes with any meal. It is not unusual to have biscuits and cornbread for dinner. Cornbread is also great crumbled into a glass of cold sweet milk or buttermilk. It is also good with honey or syrup.
Milk - You have sweet milk and buttermilk.
Tea - If you ask for tea in a resturant, you will get sweet iced tea. If you want tea without sugar, you have to request 'unsweetened tea.' If you want hot tea, you have to specify that. Tea is SWEET - and I mean SWEET! It may be served to you with a green sprig in it. That is not a weed - it is mint and gives it a delightful flavor. It is often also servied with lemon.
Jelly. Folks who make their own jelly are proud of it. Never, ever put a knife in the jelly! Spoon it out with a spoon. Trust me.
Fried chicken is eaten with the fingers, although you can use a fork to pull meat from the breast before eating. Pork chops can also be eaten with the fingers at a cookout or other informal setting. Ribs are definitely finger food. Unless you are at a formal dinner, it is OK to lick your fingers.
Deviled eggs, pickled beets, pickled peaches and bread and butter pickles are commonly served. This is not even a side dish, but a little accompaniment to the meal. They are all fantastic.
Lunch, dinner and supper. Necessary to keep your meals straight. Breakfast is usually a hearty meal...well, it used to be. Dinner is the big meal of the day. Long ago, this was served at noon, with a light supper, usually left-overs from the noon meal. Now-a-days, folks usually have lunch at noon with a heavier dinner in the evening. You can even have lunch and supper - supper being a sandwich or soup or cereal.
Sweet potatoes are different than yams, but in the south you will hear the terms used interchangeably. Yams are usually referred to when the sweet potatoes are 'candied' - cooked in butter with brown sugar.
For some reason, folks in the Georgia prefer pies to cakes. Pies are made from any and everything. Don't turn up your nose at pumpkin pie, sweet potato pie, peanut butter pie until you've tried it.
For a good sampling of real good Georgia food, try the Blue Willow Inn at Social Circle, less than an hour southeast of Atlanta. They have a web page. There are resturants of all different types, but the Blue Willow is the epitome of Georgia cooking.
Irvm is absolutely right about the Wonder Bread on the table. And, btw, white, sliced bread in a wrapper is called "light bread" or "loaf bread." (as opposed to corn bread)
Forgot to mention okra. Okra is a small, green pod vegetable that grows on a bush. Okra can be cooked whole, boiled by itself or sliced and cooked with tomatoes. Be forewarned - boiled, it is slimy. More often though, okra is sliced and fried. Most places batter and deep fry the okra so that it has a large crunchy outside. The positively BEST fried okra is sliced, shaken in a little corn meal and pan fried in just enough oil to cook it. Fried okra is not slimy.
Coke. Not Pepsi. Atlanta is the birthplace of Coca-Cola. And you may hear older people call it Co-Cola. As in, "I'm gonna go get me a co-cola. You want one?"
Actually that's Columbus, Georgia
And this thread is making me HUNGRY!
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