Saturday, July 21, 2012

Delta Dining

The Mississippi Delta is a captivating landscape. Beautiful dusty colors in the sky and towns mingle with the vast fields green cotton. The Delta is flat flood plain created in the 19th century by the dramatic movement of the Mississippi. The powerful river changed it path and left a furtile patch of soil and silt in it's wake. This became the heart of post civil war cotton production. This quickly drew migrant workers from all over the south and even the world. Black, Latinos, Italians, and Lebanese (then Syrians before Lebanese independence) came to this strange and compelling landscape at the end of the 19th century. They all also left their distinct culinary mark which is makes the Delta a foodie must.

Below is a mediterranean meal in Oxford MS at the Petra Restaurant. Run out of a trailer this 4 table hole-in-the-wall serves Mediterranean food which has been a regular feature in Mississippi food culture for more than a century.

In Clarksdale, called the "golden buckle of the cotton belt", Chamoun's Rest Haven makes this immigration story explicit. Notice the sign says American-Italian-Lebanese. They have an extensive menu including raw kibeh.

But it was breakfast so we got blueberry pancakes.

And a fantastic coconut pie to go.

After a breakfast we paid our respects to Delta blues history. We visited a museum with memorabilia from such blues luminaries as Muddy Waters, B.B.King, Joe Hurt and anyone else you have ever heard of. Clarksdale has the privilege of being the crossroads between highway 61 and 49. An excellent place to make deals with the devil. All this blues worked up an appetite.

So we went to a new diner called Oxbow. We heard about their fish tacos as soon as we hit Mississippi and had to try them.

We were initially skeptical but eventually won over to this very well conceived and executed taco. The spicing was Asian in character. We suspected the fish was marinated in some soy sauce and sugar. But this actually is very southern and is close to a red eye gravy which is a variable mix of soy sauce ketchup and coffee to be had with country ham.

We also sampled deserts from a local Mennonite bakery pictured below. The Mennonites have a strong presence in the delta and are revered for their baking skill. We got a chocolate chess pie. Yet another southern staple. It's kinda like a pecan pie without the pecans and flavored with chocolate.

But the best we saved for last. The most important and famous food from this region is the delta tamale. Here is a plaque in Rosedale explaining the connection between this food and the blues. It is e only food related monument in Mississippi. But we think there should be more.

Our first tamale stop was Hicks Tamales.

We considered the drive through but eventually went in.

We got a small order if tamales and hog maw. The tamales are steamed corn meal with spiced beef. People guard their recipes like BBQ cooks guard their sauce recipes. So every place is a bit different and everyone has their favorites. This was my favorite. Very high meat to corn ratio and very spicy.

Hog Maw is not actually mouth meat but stomach meat. Slow cooked and spiced. We ate them with hot sauce on crackers. Fantastic.

Next White Front Cafe.

The basic kitchen.

The price list for tamales.

And the tamale. This is Lilly's favorite. And understandably so. It wad delicate and delicious not as heavy as other tamales. This place is an absolute must.

You can take the girl out of NC but you can't take the NC out of the girl. Lilly was compelled to try the local BBQ at this highway joint.

A pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw on top.

Tasty, but as usual nothing beats NC BBQ in Lilly's eyes or stomach.

There is still more to explore in the delta and we will be back. Like delta donuts! This goes to show that rural America is just as culturally fascinating as anywhere. Music, food, immigration history of America...who could ask for anything more!

Location:Clarksdale and Rosedale Mississippi

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