Soul food was born in the southern part of the United States. The typical soul food dinner always includes some southern deep fried chicken, some form of greens (usually collard greens with lots of Cajun spices) and some fresh baked cornbread.
Sometimes there are green beans and ham or bacon mixed in, fried okra, beans turnip greens, black eyed peas, and maybe even some homemade macaroni and cheese, southern style of course. Then for dessert you can try some authentic soul food; a slice of homemade sweet potato pie!
Never forget to try some southern cornbread on a side plate with your vegetables – there’s nothing like it anywhere else! Many dishes of the southern cuisine are comfort foods that will keep you well fed. Some are just wonderful home-cooked dishes.
If it’s not fried soul food, it’s spiced up to a wonderful zesty taste or it’s brined in lard or bacon grease. You simply cannot be on a weight-watching diet, if you want to eat some traditional and authentic soul foods.
To better understand the types of the soul food history, food types, seasonings, how to order your next soul food meal, and those homemade pies and soul food dessert creations, read on.
What is Soul Food and where did it come from?
Soul foods came about during the 1960s within black culture in the southern United States during the civil rights movement. The soul foods were all about identity, expression and really just good home cooking. Soul foods, soul music and inspirational times made for great, comforting, and outstanding cuisine in the south.
Some of the best soul foods are stemmed from traditional southern cooking, but also have great influence from Africa; okra vegetable came from there and was incorporated into soul food for many dishes or a side of cut up green stalked okra.
Is Soul Food Southern?
Essentially, all soul food is southern but not all Southern dishes are considered soul food. Soul food is definitely southern but there are some differences. Some of the ingredients in soul food are included in southern food dishes.
Typically common soul food flavors are a bit more intense and similar to Cajun foods in the southern parts of the United States. Many dishes are saltier, spicier and some are even sweeter than specific Southern food dishes.
Most soul food revolves around parts of animals typically not eaten in southern cuisine however they can still be used. For example ox tails, pigs feed, ham hocks, turkey necks, chicken feet, and other parts.
Different types of Soul Food
Soul foods have three types of traditional cuisine. The first kind is considered, down home healthy which is essentially items in vegetable oils or margarine or some kind of lard mixture such as bacon grease.
The second kind of cuisine is upscale soul food. This is more extravagant, contains heritage meats, vegetables, and the use of duck fat which is more expensive. There is also vegan based dishes for this type of food. Many dishes contain vegetables such as collard greens, turnip greens, and okra and so on.
Three types of Soul Food Dinners:
- Down Home
- Upscale soul foods
Southern Etiquette and Common Soul Food Meals
When eating at a soul food restaurant know that manners are always important. Please and thank you ma’am. Always have a napkin on your lap, and try as much as you want. If you love home-cooked meals, you’ll be sure to love just about anything you pick on the soul food menu. Always as your waiter or waitress about great soul food recommendations based on what you’re craving for your meal.
Find out the level of spice of certain dishes you’re interested in; items can be served mild if needed. Most dishes aren’t ultra-hot, but sure do have a tang or spiced up flair than regular southern food, so they stand out.
A typical hot soul food meal usually contains some kind of meat, yams, macaroni dish, and greens or fried up greens, cabbage, mustard greens and more. Most of the meats offered are either pork, chicken, or fish, and usually these are fried.
There are many aspects to a typical hot soul food meal, and within those, there are unlimited options. That said, All Recipes concludes a classic soul food meal includes an entrée (fried or smothered chicken, fish, or pork), sides (stewed greens, black-eyed peas, candied yams), cornbread, a beverage (like red drink), and a dessert (banana pudding, cobbler).
Typical Soul food Dinner Dishes include:
- Chicken, pork (Usually fried)
- Or Fried fish, or pork with chitins on top (pig intestines)
- Black-eyed peas, Candied yams, macaroni and cheese, stewed greens (cabbage, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens)
- Cornbread; slices or a muffin
- Red drink – red juice or punch
- Common soul food desserts with lunch or dinner; peach cobbler, sweet potato pie, banana pudding, or pound cake
Soul Food Spices Mostly Used in Cooking:
Soul foods are rich in spice. This is one of the main differences between southern cooking, or “southern foods” and true authentic soul foods. Traditional soul foods without the spices means –soul food wouldn’t be soul food anymore.
Meats and entrails are flavored with a variety of cayenne pepper, cumin, curry powders and so on. Here are the essential spices that are used in some of the best soul foods and you’ll always find them in a southern or soul food kitchen!
- Black pepper
- Cayenne pepper
- Celery seed
- Curry powder
- Dry Mustard
Popular Soul Food Meats on Soul Food Menu
There are many popular meats in soul food cuisine. Sometimes you may think they sound odd or strange, but they are the life in soul foods. They are kind of delicacies to the soul food culture and the people in the south. There are many uses of pigs in soul food cooking, so if you’re a fan, you’ll love many soul food dishes.
There is always a lot of lard to be used in cooking of vegetables and for frying up fish, chicken and other foods. Here are some of the most popular used meats in soul food dishes that go fabulous with some corn bread and collard greens! Give one of these soul food recommendations a try for lunch or dinner today!
- Fatback (fatty and cured salted pork)
- Fried Chicken (battered and fried chicken, Cajun, or mild spicy)
- Fried Fish (catfish, whiting, porgies, bluegill)
- Ham Hocks
- Hog jowl, Hog maw
- Offal (minced up entrails or other organs, liver, etc.)
- Ox tails
- Pickled pigs feet (in a vinegar brine)
- Pigs feet (the leg and foot areas of meat)
- Pork (shredded pork, or pork slices)
- Pork ribs
- Poultry (chicken dishes, fried chicken)
- Turkey (parts like the neck are used)
Most soul food main dishes for dinner or lunch have some sort of green with them or peas.
They usually are all spiced up a bit with some Cajun seasonings. Most of what you will see include: black-eyed peas, collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, okra, sweet potatoes, and so on. All soul food is flavorful, has distinct flavors somewhere later on spice than others and go great with fried chicken, pork, turkey necks, chitlins and so on. Sometimes greens are cooked with beans or ham chunks to add extra flavor.
- Mustard greens
- Cooked Kale
- Turnip Greens
- Sweet potatoes
Best Hot Soul Foods you need to order
Soul foods are essentially southern cuisine and many times are referred to as comfort foods today. You can still find authentic soul food kitchens in most of the Deep South, as well as in major cities. Lots of fried foods, greens, mac and cheese baked to perfection, and various pig and other animal organs are used; typically not seen in many American dishes.
Main Dishes – Best Soul Foods
- Fried Chicken (Also nicknamed the gospel bird, fried chicken is an essential soul food – deep fried or pan fried in a glorious batter with lots of spices and seasonings)
- Fried Fish (Cat fish is the most popular for soul food dishes, battered up in an egg wash and pan fried or deep fried)
- Macaroni and Cheese (Southern mac and cheese, baked and wonderful cheddar cheese, usually made with eggs, milk and sour cream and butter)
- Greens (Collard greens, turnip greens, kale)
- Chitins (Also called chitterlings; they are pig’s intestines; they are an important soul food and were typically eaten after a fall hog-killing) a year-around treat.
- Black-eyed Peas (Made on the stove in a smoky flavored ham broth)
- Offal (Entrails from pig, or liver mashed up – can be a variety of organ meats together; variety of meats, pluck or organ meats, is the viscera and entrails of a butchered animal)
Soul Food Eats: Common Soul Bread and Grain Dishes
Cornbread is an essential soul food and usually is made with some sugar in it. Then you have hush puppies which are essentially deep fried corn balls sometimes with onion and coated with powdered sugar.
Grits are ground up corn meal and are sometimes made from hominy, which is like corn but larger and whiter, and even a tad fluffy. They are heated up, similar to oatmeal and can be eaten as a snack or with eggs and bacon for breakfast. Then you could also eat some hoe cake which is a pancake made from corn meal or from leftover biscuit batter.
Best Soul Food Desserts you must try!
Most soul food desserts revolve around basic pound cakes, pies, lots of fruit fillings like apples, peaches, blueberries and so on. Peanut brittle is a common candy, and brown sugar is used in a bunch of recipes for soul food dessert options. Puddings are also eaten for dessert. You will find some serious comfort food dessert dishes that you’ll love, and probably have already had most in some sort of southern cooking establishment.
Try a new one, or find another option; you’ll fall in love with all soul food desserts!
- Peach Cobbler (Made in a large cast-iron pot set over a fire. The pot is filled with any available fruit, some additional sweetener, and some spices, and then the entire thing was topped with a crust made from leftover biscuit dough. With improvements in canning technology, fruit cobblers could be eaten year-round. As ovens improved, soul-food cooks could now add a bottom layer of crust, thus making the dish a little fancier.
- Sweet Potato Pie (Eggs, milk, and spices to mashed sweet potatoes. Once cooked, the new culinary creation was called a sweet-potato pone)
- Apple Butter Pie (Imagine a pumpkin pie made with jarred apple butter in place of the usual canned pumpkin. It’s the perfect home-baked treat to cap off a cozy autumn supper. Patty suggests sprinkling pecan pieces over the whipped cream or ice cream before serving)
- Punkin’ Puddin’ (Baked in a casserole dish, marshmallow on top, sweet potato filler, with the added spice of pumpkin pie)
- Brown Sugar Pound Cake (Sweet pound cake with the essence of brown sugar throughout)
- Sweet Potato Cheesecake (Sweet potato filling added to a regular homemade cheesecake)
- Bourbon Balls (Vanilla wafers, cocoa powder and pecans and bourbon)
- Hazelnut Pie (Sweet pie is a traditional pecan pie, but is made with delicious hazelnuts)
- Apricot Jam Tart (Butter pastry made of flour, apricot jam, lemon juice, cinnamon and nutmeg.)
- Blackberry Cobbler (Like a pie with dough balls on top of the filling, baked with blackberry filling; great with vanilla ice cream)
- Blue Berry Cobbler (Like a pie with dough balls on top of the filling, baked with blueberry filling; eat some vanilla ice cream with it)
- Peanut Brittle (Crunchy candy with a caramel and peanut butter taste with peanuts baked in; usually in squares)
Soul food around the US – hard to find, but once you find a soul food kitchen, order some takeout!
Soul foods are still there for people to enjoy, but sadly they are a dying breed. Southern towns still have this savory, spicy and southern foods, but in larger cities you have to look a tad harder to find an authentic soul food kitchen.
In the south: the Carolinas, Georgia (Atlanta), Louisiana (New Orleans), and parts of Alabama, Mississippi and other bordering states and regions you can find some great soul food, even in Philadelphia there are some soul food kitchens.
Keep the legacy of soul food alive and try some soul food takeout. You don’t really need a soul food recommendation, because many of these foods you know, it’s just a brilliant spiced up flavor that is good home-cooked style food. If you love fried foods, you are also in luck.
- Taylor, Rachel. “Ten essential spices every Southerner needs to have in their pantry.” https://www.southernkitchen.com/articles/eat/ten-essential-spices-every-southerner-needs-to-have-in-their-pantry.
- Miller, Adrian. “Best Soul-Food Dishes, Ranked.” https://firstwefeast.com/features/2016/12/best-soul-food-ranked/red-drink.