K and I stopped by one of the local barbecue places for supper today. This place is actually located in the same building where my grandmother ran her diner back when my dad was a kid. The place was largely abandoned for most of my lifetime, but this place upgraded from their trailer outside of the abandoned mechanic's garage they converted into a dining room to this 50-year-old building on the outskirts of town. Despite their less-than-premier facilities, they actually do a pretty good business and by local restaurant standards make pretty good food.
I got the barbecue sandwich plate and substituted turnip greens for coleslaw and rice and tomatoes for the french fries. The turnips were the real southern-style version with enough meat to qualify as a serving of meat for every other serving of greens and if you ate these regularly enough you could probably save money on Chapstick if you're the type that needs lip balm. I grew up eating a healthier version of the stuff at home. My mom came from a family of weak stomachs and her mom raised her eating low-fat food just because it caused much GI distress if there was too much grease or spice involved. My mom has gradually gone for spicier foods (I left home from college having eaten bland foods at home mostly and came back six years later to my mom downing jalapeños) but she still tends to opt for the lower-fat versions of classic southern dishes. That means instead of cooking her greens with smoked ham or fatback mixed in, she just boiled them with a little salt and not much else. Honestly, I love pretty much all of the cooked greens (turnips, collards, mustards, kale, and spinach) enough that her way never kept me from enjoying them. In fact, I'll still prepare them that way, although I do like Alton Brown's alternative of using a smoked turkey leg in the pot. It adds that smokiness without all of the grease. The greens from the barbecue place were actually pretty good greens and E loved them (he ate about a third of mine as part of his supper and he'll poop green tomorrow), but the real star of the meal was the rice and tomatoes.
Rice and tomatoes is really a pretty simple dish. It's just stewed tomatoes over white rice. There's not a whole lot to it, but it tastes awesome*. Of course I could probably make it better. The rice the barbecue place used looked to be the Uncle Ben's type of quick-cooking rice and the stewed tomatoes probably came from a can, but damn it hit the spot today. K and I could probably make a better version with our staple jasmine rice and some freshly stewed tomatoes with some clever herb and spice additions, but it reminded me a little that some of the greatest foods of all time are really simple dishes born of poverty.
Except Anthony Bourdain already beat me to that spiel and he probably got the idea from someone else. It really is a shame, though, that traditional Southern cooking doesn't get the same culinary respect that other cuisines of poverty like those from the Italian, French, and Cajun traditions do. Of course a lot of the really creative restaurants in Southern cities are starting to include fancier versions of classic Southern staples like shrimp and grits and barbecue, often as a response to the local foods, heritage livestock, heirloom fruits and vegetables, Slow Food, and Southern Foodways movements, but I doubt people in other regions are seeing much of the same.
Speaking of barbecue and traditional Southern food at its finest, K and I are planning on going to the Big Pig Jig in Vienna, GA, this year. The festival is one of the largest barbecue festivals and has been featured on national television several times in the past. Just do me a favor and don't pronounce the name of the town like you would that city in Austria. People in south Georgia like to stress the first syllables of words and the name of town is pronounced something VIE-eh-nuh with a secondary stress on the second syllable, almost as if the first syllable was a separate word just pronounced really close to the other two syllables. It's kind of like another town in southwest Georgia named Albany, except it's pronounced ALL-binny. Sure you can pronounce the names the way you want, but it makes you sound a bit like a redneck calling a guy named Gregoire from France Gregory because he can't manage the foreign name.
*Regular readers are probably aware of my inability to regularly eat raw tomatoes, and while I'm gradually eroding that aversion (I found some heirloom varieties in a Harry's Farmers Market once that I actually enjoyed eating, but haven't been able to replicate the experience), my love for all things cooked tomato is as strong as my hatred of raw tomatoes at its peak when I was a kid.