Growing up in Washington, DC, I was never particularly exposed to what Southern culture truly looks like. I never came home to the smell of my mom cooking fried chicken in the kitchen, I was never told to eat my collard greens, and I had never tasted okra, but that all changed when I came to Charleston.
Having lived in Charleston for three years now, I have been able to immerse myself into the southern culture, and though I have loved every minute of it, there was a part of me still longing for “soul food.” I wanted to find that buttery fried chicken, and those perfectly salted collard greens, and after seeing Katrina Andry’s You and You Is Us installation in her exhibition Over There and Here is Me and Me, there was a specific image that stood out to me that answered my calling for soul food. In Andry’s collage, she photographed specific Charleston monuments, libraries, statues, buildings, and one of Charleston’s favorite soul food restaurants, Eastside Soul Food.
Due to the migration of the Gullah people, their cuisine has been around for a very long time in Charleston. The Gullah people are local descendants of West Africa brought to South Carolina as enslaved people. The specific ingredients used in this way of cooking are tied to the land, the sea, and the seasons of Southern states. Ingredients such as, okra, squash, sweet peas, and zucchini are used in Southern cooking everyday but these vegetables have been brought to America from West Africa, thus the Gullah people have excelled in growing and cooking these ingredients. Many restaurants in Charleston claim to have authentic soul food, but with the help of Katrina’s photograph, I knew where to turn to see if that claim was valid.
The hidden gem that is Eastside Soul Food is located at 46 America Street and has been a family-run business ever since they opened five years ago. I got the opportunity to sit down with Brooks Harrison, chef, and co-owner of the restaurant to get a better understanding of what real soul food means to him. Harrison or “Chef B” as the locals call him, stated that, “although many restaurants in Charleston claim to serve authentic Gullah cuisine or Soul Food, Eastside Soul Food is one of the few that do it best.” Historic Charleston has turned into a city that tourists from all over the world come to see, but being a local, Chef B has noticed that these tourists aren’t entirely experiencing Charleston and all it has to offer. Many tourists come to Charleston and only see the popular staples such as King Street, Rainbow Row, and the Battery, but so many miss out on the authenticity that other establishments like Eastside Soul Food have to offer. Eastside Soul Food praises themselves for serving authentic soul food like that buttery fried chicken, those perfectly salted collard greens, and their most popular item on the menu, red rice.
With the help of Katrina Andry’s exhibition Over There and Here is Me and Me and her photo of Eastside Soul Food in her collage You and You Is Us, I was able to better my understanding of Southern culture in the city that I call home.
By Grace Edson, Halsey Institute intern
Canavan, Hillary Dixler. “How Gullah Cuisine Has Transformed Charleston Dining.” Eater, 23 Mar. 2016, www.eater.com/2016/3/22/11264104/gullah-food-charleston. Accessed 19 Sept. 2019.
top image: Katrina Andry, You and You is Us [installation view], 2019. Acrylic mirrors on vinyl wallcovering. Courtesy the artist and the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art. Photo: Rick Rhodes.