The South has long been known for its delicious cooking, but with such a high number of people moving to Southern cities, some of the area’s best chefs have stepped up their game. If you’re planning to visit Charleston, SC, you’ll be privy to one of the country’s hottest culinary scenes right now. And, while Charleston has a variety of restaurants serving up all different types of food, you’ll absolutely have to seek out traditional Southern-style dishes to truly get a taste of this city’s culture. From shrimp and grits to Frogmore Stew, the people of the Lowcountry love their seafood–and Charleston knows how to do it right. Check out some of these iconic Charleston dishes that you must try during your trip.
She Crab Soup
A very rich, creamy appetizer, She Crab soup is a classic dish in this Southern city. If you’ve never heard of she crab before, it’s okay. The name of the dish is a nod to the fact that crab meat and crab roe are used to give the dish its seafood flavor. Crab roe are female crab eggs that give the dish its unique flavor. However, in South Carolina, if you’re crabbing and you happen to catch one of these crustaceans while they are carrying their eggs, it’s actually illegal to keep them. Chefs will use crab meat and purchase the roe separately to be added to the soup.
If you’ve ever had lobster bisque, this is a very similar taste. The crab meat is combined with milk, heavy cream, stock and sherry to create a delicious dish that is actually said to be invented right here in Charleston. You can find she crab soups dating back hundreds of years, but many Charlestonians tell the story that she crab soup was invented in 1909 when former President Taft visited the city. A huge fan of turtle soup, Taft visited a restaurant and requested his favorite dish, but to impress the president, the chef doctored up the traditional recipe with crab and crab roe—and she crab soup was born.
Frogmore stew may possibly be the best dish that is native to Charleston, SC. This meal encompasses everything that Charlestonians love about the city’s culinary scene. It’s simple and traditional, and if you want to get a taste of this classic recipe, the best place to try it is at Bowen’s Island Restaurant off Folly Road on James Island. Frogmore stew is a combination of shrimp, sausage, corn on the cob and potatoes cooked up in one pot and seasoned in Old Bay. Sometimes referred to as Lowcountry boil, this dish can be served for just a single person, but many people in Charleston will host a Lowcountry boil and throw heaps of this meal out onto a large, shared table for everyone to stand around and grab a piece.
Shrimp and Grits
No trip to Charleston, SC is complete without getting a taste of a shrimp and grits dish. This is one of the most popular Charleston dishes that has become well-known throughout the country. Grits are typically served as a breakfast dish in the South, but shrimp and grits have become more of a lunch or dinner meal. First, the grits, which are like creamy cornmeal, are cooked and cheese is added. Then, the grits are topped with shrimp, bell peppers and a delicious sauce often made with Tasso ham. Chefs in Charleston are very proud of their perfected shrimp and grits recipes, so many of them get creative by adding extra ingredients like bacon, sausage or ham and taking some liberties with the dish that they choose to top it all off with.
Oyster or Shrimp Po’ Boy
A po’ boy is a traditional type of sandwich served in a long hoagie made from soft bread. In Charleston, a po’ boy is usually either filled with fried oysters or shrimp and then topped with chopped lettuce and tomato and smeared with a creamy Cajun sauce. Although po’ boys originated in Louisiana, this Southern dish has made its way up to Charleston, where chefs have taken the recipe and made it their own. Oysters are the most popular–and most loved–type of seafood in this city, so naturally, the oyster po’ boy has become a staple on menus throughout the city. Only using local oysters and shrimp, chefs play up the seafood offerings to give you an authentic taste of the city’s culinary scene.
We know what you’re thinking—you can find fried chicken in nearly any city in the United States. But, if that’s what you think, then you’ve definitely never had fried chicken in the South. The South’s cooking style is all about comfort foods, and Charleston is no different. Fried chicken here is usually made with a buttermilk batter that leaves the chicken perfectly crispy while still remaining moist inside. There are plenty of places in Charleston that will serve you delicious fried chicken, but if you want a taste of real Southern cooking, order the fried chicken from Martha Lou’s Kitchen on Morrison Drive. It may look like a hole-in-the-wall establishment, but they’ve been pushing out the city’s best fried chicken for years.
A very simple dish, crab rice, is a traditional Gullah recipe that pretty much just uses fried crab over rice, though, of course, different chefs will spice up their own recipe with added ingredients like peppers, onions and even bacon. If you’re looking for an authentic crab rice recipe, head to Hannibal’s Kitchen on Drake Street in downtown Charleston. Nana’s Seafood on Line Street is another place you can snag this delicious meal, but check their Instagram for daily specials, as the crab rice isn’t always on the menu.
Get a Taste of Charleston Living
Whether you’re thinking about moving to Charleston, SC or just stopping by for a visit, you’re in luck. The Holy City has some of the most delicious and iconic Southern dishes around, and you’d be crazy not to try each and every one of them while you’re in town. Because the ocean is such a big part of Lowcountry living, many of the most popular dishes like she crab soup, shrimp and grits and Frogmore stew incorporate the area’s local seafood items. Do your research and find the perfect place for you. Pop in and indulge in all the amazing food Charleston is known for.
About the Author:
Traci Magnus is a realtor for Dunes Properties located in Charleston, SC. She was born and raised on the Charleston coast and attended the College of Charleston before obtaining her real estate license. When she’s not working, you can find her writing, spending time with her husband Glenn and son Max or wandering the historic streets downtown.