Charleston Eats – Feast For Foodies
Charleston has always been known for its charming, historic downtown, the gardens and plantations along the Ashley River and for some of the best beaches in the country. But, in recent years, Charleston’s reputation as a gourmet destination has grown to new heights. Culinary tours, wine tastings, pub crawls and more go hand in hand in with some of the best dining in the nation.
But, how did it get that way? Food, of course, is an essential part of the fabric and heritage of any culture and the lowcountry is no different. Food tells a story; a story about where it came from, how it was grown, raised or caught and the people that are behind each delicious dish.
Charleston, or Charles Towne as it was known in its infancy, was an entryway for immigrants from all over the world. The food traditions of the European settlers and African slaves came together to make many of the dishes we consider to be lowcountry fare today. Here are just two of the many recipes (or receipts as locals call them) that live up to this unique heritage.
She-crab soup is a wonderful example of the blending of cultures. Scottish settlers brought with them their own version of thick, creamy seafood bisque that included crab and rice. In 1909, President Howard Taft was being wined and dined at the residence of Charleston’s then mayor, R. Goodwyn Rhett. Legend has it that Mayor Rhett asked his butler and cook, William Deas, to “dress up” the pale, crab soup. Deas added orange-hued crab eggs (crab roe) to give color and improve the flavor, thus inventing our beloved She Crab Soup. Crab roe are the eggs harvested from the female blue crab. Today, it is illegal to keep any females with visible egg masses — called sponges — and must be returned to the water unharmed. The crab roe is what gives the traditional soup an orange hue and enriches its crabby flavor. But, since crab roe is no longer an option, two crumbled hard-cooked egg yolks are a great substitute for the crab roe.
Grits are also a Southern favorite, but here in Charleston we love to serve them up with shrimp and tasso gravy! Every home and restaurant in town has their own twist on this perennial favorite. Stone ground grits are a must for this recipe — thick and seasoned just right. And frozen shrimp from abroad just will not do! Local shrimp are caught daily from a fleet of shrimpers up and down the Carolina coast. Head over to Shem Creek and you can see the shrimp boats come and go as dolphins play all around. And finally the tasso gravy! Some folks like to serve it without the gravy, but we here at Gateway just can’t even fathom the idea! Tasso is cut from a hog’s shoulder and blended with butter, milk and a plethora of spices. Some will argue that tasso gravy is a Louisiana tradition– but that’s okay, we don’t mind being compared to the Big Easy.
You’ll find both of these favorites in many restaurants around Charleston. And since you’re visiting in a month with an “R” in it- you can also delight in local oysters. Dig in – your taste buds will thank you!