What Makes A Food Quintessentially North Carolinian?

Mar 3, 2015


Known in North Carolina as the "Barbecue Man," Bob Garner shares his love of the state's favorite food through recipe books, restaurant reviews, and regular segments on UNC-TV's North Carolina Weekend, where some foods get his stamp of approval: "Mmm-mmm."

But his newest book takes readers on a culinary trip around the state from the little-known Neuse River Fish Stew and Ocracoke Fig Cake to the classic Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Texas Pete hot sauce and Mount Olive pickles.

"[Neuse River Fish Stew] is an extremely localized dish that is just part of everyday life in places like Kinston and La Grange," Garner says.

Neuse River Fish Stew, with large chunks of fish, potatoes, and poached eggs
Credit Mike Onnifrey / John F. Blair Publisher

"It's a matter of bacon, potatoes, onions, a little tomato stock, and some chunks of fish on the bone."

For some in eastern North Carolina, the stew is the center of social gatherings.

"Men, particularly, are always getting together to cook these stews, and then when they finish this chunky fish stew, they break eggs into the top of it and poach the eggs in the liquid that has the fish in there."

"[Neuse River Fish Stew] is one of the most homely dishes I've ever seen... I'm looking at a picture of it. A bowl of it is just not a lovely thing." - Bob Garner
Ocracoke Fig Cake
Credit Bob Garner / John F. Blair Publisher

"Back in the 50s, someone substituted fig preserves in a Date Nut Cake recipe and came up with this dark, moist, aromatic sort of a spice cake." - Bob Garner

Guest Host Phoebe Judge talks with Garner about the book, Foods That Make You Say Mmm-mmm (John F. Blair/2014), and what makes a food definitively North Carolinian.