Thursday, October 2, 2008

Eating the Low Country: Part II

There I was, at the Squat and Gobble with a steaming plate full of fresh, local shrimp and grits in front of me. I don't really eat shrimp these days, ever since I realized how much of it was farm raised and how much of the farm raised stuff was coming from places like Indonesia. There we persuade farmers to trade their native mangrove forests for disease infested pools of heavily concentrated shrimp pumped full of chemicals we've banned in the U.S.

There are even those (like National Geographic) who partly link the devastation of the tsunami of 2004 to the absence of natural buffers like mangroves, many of which had been turned into shrimp aquaculture by the time the wave struck. And having grown up poking around the mangroves of South Florida, I find it hard to exchange old friends for a food I could substitute with chicken.

But the shrimp at the S&Q were pulled out of the water just a few miles away. They were plump, moist, pink and downright bouncy. I adored them, despite the positively raunchy decor.

For those who don't know, the Low Country is a coastal area of Georgia and South Carolina marked by beaches, salt marshes, small islands, inlets, and an at once gothic and comforting mix of Spanish moss and palm trees. The region spans two states and drips with history, from pirates to the Civil War.

The area is also home to many Gullah and Geetchee, some of whom still occupy the oldest free communities of blacks in the U.S. Sadly, much of their culture has been replaced by resorts on the desirable sea islands that had been their homes. Hilton Head, for instance.

But what better way to show your support than spending all your dough at their restaurants and farmers market stands? As I believe Wendell Berry (or was it Morgan Spurlock?) said, and I paraphrase, "every time you eat, you vote."

Low Country cuisine is very much like general Southern cooking, though it leans heavily on seafood and features more of the Caribbean and African influences, not unlike Cajun or Creole cooking in New Orleans. Local specialties include she-crab soup, gumbo, Lowcountry boil, Frogmore stew, oyster roast, and real South Carolina rice. Why we don't hear more about it as a regional eating destination I honestly don't know.

At the end of the day we had another plane to catch, so I knew I had to eat as much of the L.C. as I possibly could before flying back to Boston and wistfully gazing at the shrimp filled waters far below. Given the time crunch, right after the shrimp and grits at the Squat and Gobble, I immediately moved on to oysters.

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