They call it “culinary tourism,” the practice of traveling to an area to sample the local food. People have been going to places like Provence or Italy to do this for years, and only recently has the practice gotten much attention in the South, most notably through the efforts of the Southern Foodways Alliance.
For anyone prowling the foodways of Southern Appalachia, your backwoods baedeker should be Fred Sauceman’s wonderful pair of books. Both are entitled The Place Setting, and both are published by Mercer University Press.
The latest edition, subtitled Second Serving, continues the eclectic menu that Sauceman established in his first book: places to eat, recipes, looks at historic people such as Cas Walker associated with food, and various ethnic foods that have come to the South. One of the more interesting of these is the tamale.
Most people rightly associate tamales with Mexican cuisine, but they have long been a staple of Mississippi eateries–legendary bluesman Robert Johnson sang about them in his 1936 “They’re Red Hot.” There’s even a Tamale Trail along which aficianados can eat their way. Sauceman spotlights Knoxville’s Clara Robinson, who owns and operates Mary’s Hot Tamales at 1931 East Magnolia in Knoxville and continues the Mississippi tamale tradition in East Tennessee.
Other highlights of the book include a visit to Seaver’s Bakery in Johnson City, purveyor of fried pies since 1949; a sample of boat dock dining at The Captain’s Table Restaurant at Lakeshore Resort in Hampton on Watauga Lake; and the St. John Milling Company, a mill that has been in operation since 1778.
This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.