"Is the iced tea sweet or unsweetened?" I was sitting in a midtown restaurant in New York and had ordered an iced tea. It was habit to ask if it was sweetened or not. The waiter lifted his eyebrow and pulled his head back as though I had spit in the tea or something! "It's unsweetened," he practically hissed, overly dramatic to say the least in response to a simple question. It may have been a "No Duh," to him but I needed to know.
My bad, I forgot where I was. Here in the South when you order an iced tea there is no question that it will be sweet. If there is a question it will be the degree of sweetness; crack your teeth sweet, mix it with water sweet, and just right. (Here's a hint, when in a restaurant in the South ask if they have unsweetened tea, otherwise you'll never know because you aren't often offered a choice.)
I got to thinking about food in the New South while making a pitcher of iced tea at home this afternoon. We don't sweeten our tea at home, if you want to add sugar no problem, it's available. Often we have a simple syrup chilling in the fridge which makes sweetening iced tea easier.
Then I flashed on the scene at the restaurant in New York, and that led me to fried pickles at a Stone Mountain restaurant. It's called Aunt Sally's Front Porch, or something to that effect. The name of the restaurant really isn't important, it was the fact that after placing our orders they brought us a basket of hush puppies and fried pickles. Piping hot, right out of the hot grease, and hmmm they smelled good.
Of course I recognized the hush puppies, and as always wondered where the heck the name came from? But the other item was unrecognizable. I was thinking it might be a weirdly shaped green tomato, which are quite tasty fried. A friend sitting with us took pity on me, leaned over and said, "They're fried pickles, dill, I think."
My eyebrow went up like that waiter in the restaurant in Manhattan. My neck flew back like someone had waved a snake in my face. She may as well have said it was a fried grasshopper or something. " Fried pickles? Why? Who would even think of something like that?" I asked. Seriously, I really wanted to know. Did someone have a craving for something fried one day and the only thing on hand were dill pickles? Or maybe it came from the imagination of someone deep in pregnancy, jonesing for something fried, and something sour?
I'm an adventurous eater, one who jokingly says I am an omnivore. I have eaten Bambi, and Thumper, and Kanga, too. There are only a handful of foods that I really don't like. And before I declare something beyond the pale, I at least try it.
We had been in Georgia all of a month or so when we had this outing to Stone Mountain, a location made famous by Dr. King in his I Have a Dream address. Who knew there were rides, and fireworks, and all manner of fun things for kids and families to do now? We've come a long way Baby!
But this fried pickles, and snickers, and mac and cheese, and other assorted fried stuff was freaking me out. Someone had jokingly said about well known Georgia chef and restaurant owner, Paula Deen, "She'd fry butter if she could!" Well, yes, I believe that to be true now.
I feared for my arteries but plopped a pickle anyway. Not too bad, not worth doing more than once but, not too bad.
Since my Stone Mountain experience three years ago, I have discovered a few incredible, amazing international markets that all but shriek, New South right here! The first time we went to the Dekalb International Farmers Market I all but lost my ever loving mind. The produce section was the largest I have ever seen, anywhere. If there is a fruit or vegetable, herb or spice from anyplace on the planet missing, then it's probably inedible. You want fresh fish, there are tanks with the fish still swimming, choose one. There were probably 100 different kinds of cheeses, and fresh meats, including goat and chicken feet, and dairy, (fresh organic milk from an Amish farm) and teas, coffees, and I could go on and on but it would make you as exhausted as I was after my first trip.
A little over a year ago while getting my nails done, my favorite nail tech told me about the Super H market, about twenty minutes north from my house. It is Asian owned and they are opening five more in the area. When we pulled into the parking lot any questions about authenticity went out the window. Just mercy, Super H is so large that they have foods sectioned by country, Thai, Viet Namese, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Phillippine. Got all your regular fruits and veggies, and at amazing prices, including a ton of stuff I have never heard of, then head over to the fish section and choose, dead or alive. (Beats fishing.) If you shop on Friday, Saturday or Sunday you can taste your way to fullness as they offer you steamed dumplings, and soups, and appetizers galore.
But, most importantly here's what I know, if we follow the food, at least here in the Atlanta area, then you can see a possible future for the New South and it doesn't look anything like the past. And I for one am thrilled.