As the Nation Feasted on Southern Food Fads, We Held Down Our Diverse Roots | Food Feature | Indy Week
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As the Nation Feasted on Southern Food Fads, We Held Down Our Diverse Roots 

Tamales being plated at El Chapin in Durham

Photo by Alex Boerner

Tamales being plated at El Chapin in Durham

This year brought many headaches and heartbreaks, but our food still showed us our soul. If you bit hard enough, you could find plenty of stories on your plate.

In our 2016–17 Finder special, Angela Perez heralded the wide appeal of Southern food. "Even the most health-conscious cosmopolitan needs to find culinary succor in some good ol' down-home fried and fatback-laden goodness," she wrote. It's true. Southern food is a thing. Food-obsessed people nationwide looked South, despite our political faux pas, for the latest dishes. But while the rest of the country defined Southern food as trendy chicken-and-waffle joints and sixty-six-dollar collards from Neiman Marcus, we stayed rooted in what we know is truly ours.

One persistent myth of the South is its cultural homogeny, but there is no dearth of diversity here, and there hasn't ever been. Southern food provides a rich historical context for this variety. In 2016, we saw Triangle folks staking claim to their roots or blooming (and flourishing) where they've been planted.

The Ordoñez family at El Chapin, the first Guatemalan restaurant in North Carolina, celebrated its first year of business in a Durham strip mall. Toriano and Serena Fredericks of the roving Boricua Soul food truck and Oscar Diaz at Raleigh's Jose and Sons challenged the idea of authenticity in food as well as our obsession with it.

In our Dish special, Kim Lan Grout pushed a tense conversation about cultural appropriation in a new direction, comforting us with the notion that it's OK to eat pho how you want to (it's "a lot like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup: there is no wrong way to eat it"), but reminding us to make sure we gulp the history that comes with it. And our inaugural food awards honored four local preservers of tradition—Katherine Gill of the Hub Farm, April McGreger of Farmer's Daughter Pickles and Preserves, and brother-sister team Vansana and Vanvisa Nolintha of Bida Manda.

These Southerners are planting, sustaining, and shaping the future of food here in the Triangle, and it's food that takes you to the heart of a place.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Growing Our Own."


  • One persistent myth of the South is its cultural hegemony, but there’s no dearth of diversity here.

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