Millions have been made on chicken pieces fried in deep fat. And millions of Americans care deeply about their notion of where it came from and how it should be cooked. We can probably all agree about a few basic things in this otherwise contentious area. It comes from the South. It is always dredged in some kind of flour or other starch. It is chicken.
Of course, there are many other foods that are “southern-fried.” I have eaten southern-fried quail and southern-fried eggplant. I have even tried to eat southern-fried bacon in a downtown Atlanta cafeteria. I love southern-fried catfish and hush puppies, which are balls of southern-fried cornmeal. The trouble is that I think while I eat. I know that the southern part of “southern-fried” is a polite way of claiming for Dixie what came to the prebellum South in the minds of slaves from West Africa. Saying this is almost as inflammatory as telling Mexicans that their national saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe, takes her name from a shrine devoted to the
How do I know for sure that southern frying is really African frying? Because I have seen and tasted “southern-fried” food all over the Caribbean and in parts of South America with significant black populations descended from slaves. The hush puppy is only the northern extension of a Yoruba fritter made in the United States with cornmeal instead of with the black-eyed pea flour black women street vendors use to make what they call acaraje in Brazil’s Bahia province. Black-eyed peas are imports to the West Atlantic rim from Africa, and Bahian acaraje are identical to fritters of the same name that are still a popular food in Nigeria. And they are first cousins of the acrats eaten in Martinique and Guadeloupe.
Someday, an ambitious person will gather all these post-African recipes and assemble them in a book of West Atlantic Creole food, the food of the Americas-born children of slaves. Then we will really understand the full splendor of the tradition that southern-fried chicken belongs in.
This is not to attack Colonel Sanders or
But in the United States of America every group can enjoy the style of living it prefers, even if that means buying Colonel Sander’s, uncrisp, blandly seasoned “original” Kentucky-fried chicken.
© 2003 Raymond Sokolov. All rights reserved.