Eat Like a Local- North Carolina

Eat Like a Local- North Carolina

North Carolina Food Guide

By Sarah Gurganus


Are you excited about planning your next trip?

Do you want an edible experience? Would you like
some culinary guidance from a local? If you answered
yes to any of these questions, then this Eat Like a Local
book is for you. Eat Like a Local - North Carolina by
Sarah Gurganus offers the dish on food culture and
culinary tradition in North Carolina. Culinary tourism is
an import aspect of any travel experience. Food has the
ability to tell you a story of a destination, its landscapes,
and culture on a single plate. Most food guides tell you
how to eat like a tourist. Although there is nothing
wrong with that, as part of the Eat Like a Local series,
this book will give you a food guide from someone who
has lived at your next culinary destination.

In these pages, you will discover advice on having a
unique edible experience. This book will not tell you
exact addresses or hours but instead will give you
excitement and knowledge of food and drinks from a
local that you may not find in other travel food guides.

Eat like a local. Slow down, stay in one place, and
get to know the food, people, and culture. By the time
you finish this book, you will be eager and prepared to
travel to your next culinary destination.


"The secret of success in life is to
eat what you like and let the food
fight it out on the inside."
- Mark Twain (who must have eaten at least one meal
in North Carolina)

North Carolina, like the rest of the American South, can
tell a delicious history about the food we put on our
plates, but it’s a dark one, too. Our food culture is a
blend of Native American, African, English, and
Moravian dishes, and the influence came to us in that

The first European migrants to North Carolina attribute
their survival to the teachings of Native Americans,
who survived on a corn-based diet, which explorer John
Lawson called The Most Useful Grain in the World.
The rest of their food was fairly versatile, as North
Carolina has always been fertile farmland, and Native
Americans here were both farmers and hunter-

North Carolina’s penchant for food as an opportunity
for a social gathering is often given Native American
roots, although it’s seen in other cultures as well.
Native Americans had very active lifestyles, so they
had huge caloric needs. They’d only stop their work to
eat, and often gathered at special events to gorge
themselves on foods to such an extent that European
settlers who witnessed it and were invited often
couldn’t keep up. This particular habit is attributed to
their need for high intake, and is mirrored today in
customs of modern North Carolinians, where farming
culture means we gather for big meals together before
and after work, and for many celebrations in which we
gather with our entire families, social groups, or

While there are defined roots in Native American
dishes, the bulk of our culinary history is African.
Why? It’s pretty clear: the Southern United States,
particularly states on the Eastern Seaboard like North
Carolina, relied on slave labor, and put the finest cooks
in their kitchens. Most of these slaves, or their parents,
had come directly from Africa, so they brought the
traditions they knew to plantation kitchens.

Those forced into work in other parts of plantations
were given meager food rations of low quality and
adapted their traditional dishes with the resources
available. The foods they perfected in this manner made
their way into the kitchens of their owners. These foods
rich in spirit became richer still with finer ingredients
available, and the adapted dishes became popular
throughout the South. Dishes based in rice, okra, pork,
and collard greens almost all are derived from African

Though the original European migrants to North
Carolina were mostly British, that particular food
culture didn’t survive through the years. They came
here ill-equipped for survival in the environment and
they themselves in many written histories attributed
their success to Native Americans who fed them for a
time, taught them how to cook, and showed them how
to grow and hunt. The selection of options in the
bountiful farmland here was really more plentiful than
what they’d experienced in their homeland, and so the
dishes that survived that time are well-preserved as
being authentically British and are present currently
more as international flavors reintroduced in our global
culture now than having been passed down from
original settlers.

Moravian history is a slightly different story. Especially
in the west, there is a strong presence even today of the
foods these German missionaries introduced. Coming
to North Carolina by way of Pennsylvania in the mid-
eighteenth century, the Moravian church founded most
of the area that is today Forsyth County, where one of
our largest cities, Winston-Salem, is located. Their
culinary traditions, particularly sweets in a time of
ration, took hold and haven’t let go of North Carolina

Modern Carolina cuisine, especially in urban areas, is
now more heavily influenced by groups from all over
the world, as we’re blessed to have some of the most
diverse migrant communities in the country. We have
some of the best Mediterranean and especially Greek
and Turkish restaurants to be found, and some of the
best pizza south of New York and west of Italy,
depending on the style you’re looking for. Asian and
African flair abounds. Whatever you’re craving while
you visit, if you’re willing to hunt and want to take a
brief break from the country kitchens of Carolina or the
monotonous chain restaurants, you can find it here.


Barbecue is the third rail of North Carolina politics. -
John Shelton Reed, essayist, sociologist, truth-speaker


In North Carolina, families divide over the barbecue
rift. In fact, while any other Southerner defines their
geography by their residence below the Mason Dixon
line, in our state the true continental divide splits the
Old North State into east and west. The one thing the
two factions agree on is that barbecue is only proper
when it’s pork - sure we’ll eat barbecue chicken or
beef, and we’ll even enjoy it, but that’s just another
food entirely and practically exotic.

The important difference is more nuanced. Most
Americans think of barbecue as a grill to slap meat on
in the backyard, or maybe a tangy tomato sauce. But a
proper native North Carolinian knows barbecue isn’t a
verb or an adjective, and it’s not a backyard stovetop
(we call those grills) or an event to which you invite the
neighbors (we call them pig-pickins, no final “g”
necessary). It’s slow-cooked pork and nothing else. In
the eastern part of the state, the whole hog is roasted,
chopped, and mixed with vinegar and red pepper flakes.
To the west of Raleigh, only the shoulder is used and
the sauce has a tomato base more similar to the flavor
commonly associated around the country with the word


That’s because the debate had to be settled, and the
verdict is in. Eastern-style barbecue is the OG, the
original oldtimer based in the Native American and
African, and even Spanish, culinary traditions that
influence a great deal of the regional cuisine. The great
barbecue battle began sometime around the onset of
World War I, and it’s a toss-up which one influenced
the state more.

Ketchup was invented in 1876 and that was the decline
that began the west’s great betrayal. In the Piedmont
region of the state, barbecue pitmasters began mixing
the tomato paste into the vinegar sauce. At the same
time, they began only using the shoulder of the pig.
Now some western Carolinians would argue that the
shoulder is the tastiest part, implying this makes the
barbecue superior, but we coastal folks know the
tomato base smothers the meat’s flavor while the
vinegar enhances it. We also know that the shoulder is
the cheapest part of the hog and the hillbillies in the
west aren’t aristocrats like those of us in the flatlands.

Read all 50 Tips in the book
Eat Like a Local - North Carolina
available at Amazon.


Sarah Gurganus is a teacher, writer, and community
organizer raised in Wilmington, North Carolina, though
her family hails from Martin County on the east coast
and Ashe County in the Appalachian Mountains. She is
the director of the non-profit organization Fortaleza,
Mujer!, dedicated to ending gender-based violence in
Guatemala, where she spends the bulk of her non-North
Carolina time. When she isn’t working, she enjoys
exploring wherever life has taken her for the day, and
makes time for her family, good food, good books, and

Sarah grew up in the farm kitchens of her
grandmothers, sneaking produce directly from the field
in her grandfathers’ crops, in her mother’s bakery, and
eating fresh-caught seafood on docks and in sand. She’s
eaten her way through a few countries and continents,
and nothing compares to what she was raised on in
North Carolina.

Please follow and like us: