Southern food is food which comes from the culinary tradition of the American South. While people often use the blanket term “Southern food,” food from this region is actually very diverse, and there are a number of different cuisines within the South. Barbecue, especially pit barbecue, is probably the signature food of the South, although some other well-known examples include things like sweet tea, fried green tomatoes, ham, fried chicken, catfish, potato salad, buttermilk biscuits, and pecan pie.
The food of the American South reflects a unique blend of cultures and culinary traditions. The Native Americans, Spanish, French, and British all contributed to the development of Southern food, bringing recipes and foods from their own cultures. Transplanted Africans brought to the South through slavery also brought things to Southern cuisine.
There are a few rough categories of Southern food. So-called “Soul Food” is heavily influenced by African cooking traditions, tending to feature a lot of greens and vegetables, rice, and nuts such as peanuts. Okra and collard greens often crop up in Soul Food, along with thick stews. Creole food has a French flair, and is often found around New Orleans, while Cajun cuisine reflects the culinary traditions of immigrants from the region of Canada known as Acadia.
Lowcountry cuisine features a lot of seafood and rice, while the food of the Appalachians relies heavily on preserved meats and vegetables. Southern food tends to be heavy on the corn, thanks to the Native American influence, with dishes like grits, cornbread, and corn on the cob being very popular. Nuts such as pecans and peanuts are also popular, as are fruits like peaches and berries. Common vegetables in the South include things like peppers, peas, okra, carrots, and sweet potatoes, while pork, chicken, and seafood remain enduringly popular.
The South also houses a lot of bakers, famously producing very light, rich baked goods like red velvet cake, buttermilk biscuits, and fluffy white breads. Southern bakers love making sweet treats like pies, cobblers, and cookies. White bread rolls, cinnamon rolls, and other bready treats are also popular in the South.
Many people associate Southern food with simple, hearty meals like those served in American diners. While some Southern foods certainly do meet these criteria, other Southern dishes are actually quite complex, with delicate flavors and ingredients which are sometimes hard to find outside the South. Visitors to the region are often astounded by the variety and complexity of Southern cuisine.