General Discussion

Soul Food versus Southern Food


General Discussion 53

Soul Food versus Southern Food

Jim Leff | Feb 24, 2000 10:28 AM

What's the difference between "soul food" and "Southern food"? I mean, other than the racial background of the chef, what's the difference between the fried chicken, collard greens, candied sweet potatoes, etc, that we see in soul food places and the boarding house dishes served on lazy susans on Sundays?

I once wrote an article comparing two African American-run restaurants in Brooklyn. One was called "Soul Food Kitchen", and it was extremely down-home. Lots of lard, lots of crude ingredients made delicious. The counter woman there breezily chewed pieces of chopped barbecue between customers.

The other place place had an enormous kitchen filled with gleaming pots, sparkling clean walls and floor, and the chopping of the collard greens looked like a surgical procedure (down to the green scrubs, gloves, and hair nets). No lard, good ingredients, a bit more sophisticated cooking technique.

Both places were (and are) wonderful...I like both equally.

What I wrote in the article was that the chef/owner of the second place, Mrs. Gaither, might be insulted to hear her food described as "soul food", that soul food was more low class, and about cooking from deprivation. There's no deprivation in Mrs. Gaither's kitchen. I said that she's cooking proper Southern Cuisine, whereas Soul Food Kitchen was cooking to suit its name.

Did I get it right? Is it a question of attitude, of lard, of good ingredients and more sophisticated recipes? Or was I making a false distinction?

Lemme know what you think, y'all...


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