What is South Carolina known for, if not the beautiful beach city of Charleston? While you might be thinking about the beaches or church steeples when it comes to this coastal city, Charleston foods are iconic as well! With a wonderful location right on the water, Charleston has amazing seafood and Southern classics to share.
Here are some of the food from Charleston to try!
What’s Special About Foods In Charleston?
Charleston food boasts a vibrant mix of flavors deeply rooted in Southern traditions, as well as African, Caribbean, and European influences. The city’s historical significance shaped Charleston cuisine, resulting in a unique blend of flavors and techniques. In addition to this, Charleston has an amazing location right along the ocean, providing tons of fresh seafood.
Additionally, food from Charleston really embraces the farm-to-table philosophy, emphasizing the use of locally sourced ingredients. This ranges from the Atlantic Ocean to produce from local farms and everything in between. In fact, this is such a big part of the Charleston food scene that you can even take a chef-guided farm-to-table food tour!
Most Famous Food From Charleston
She Crab Soup
When it comes to food, Charleston is best known for the She Crab soup. The name implies what makes this South Carolina food special. It is a crab soup that features orange roe extracted from female crabs.
In addition to the special roe, She Crab Soup utilizes some Charleston food favorites: crab meat, heavy stock, and sherry.
Legend has it this dish was created in the early 1900s, during a dinner between President Taft and Charleston Mayor Rhett. The mayor’s chef, William Deas, heard about President Taft’s affection for Turtle Soup, so he tried to concoct a similar dish for him. The result was She Crab Soup, which is still part of what Charleston is known for.
If you want to get a feel for Charleston’s history and food, check out a History + Food and Wine Tour! Seafood and wine make a perfect combination for a nice dinner out or a classy lunch along the beach. Make sure you get a taste!
Famous Charleston Foods: Seafood Specialities
Shrimp & Grits
Among all the iconic foods in Charleston, shrimp and grits is a beloved Southern classic. This dish features succulent shrimp sauteed with bacon or country ham, cooked in a flavorful sauce, and served over a bed of creamy stone-ground grits. As you may know, grits are a staple in Southern cuisine, and in this case, they are cooked low and slow to create a velvety texture.
The combination of tender shrimp, smoky bacon or ham, and creamy grits creates a harmonious blend of flavors and textures that is both comforting and indulgent. Shrimp and grits really showcases the region’s fresh seafood and highlights traditional Southern ingredients that dominate food from Charleston.
Lowcountry Boil, also known as Frogmore Stew, is a popular and iconic Charleston food. This communal seafood boil typically consists of a delightful medley of fresh shrimp, corn on the cob, sausage, and potatoes. The ingredients are simmered together in a flavorful brother, often seasoned with Old Bay or similar spices, infusing the seafood and vegetables with rich, aromatic flavors.
If you want to be really traditional, make sure you get served on a newspaper-covered table, with a relaxed and casual feel. If you’re interested in Lowcountry cuisine more broadly, you should check out an Upper King Street Food Tour! You get to sample some of the best Lowcountry dishes Charleston cuisine can offer.
Oyster Pot Pie
Charleston oyster pot pie is a delectable meal that showcases the amazing oyster harvest, often utilized in the foods of Charleston. The savory and comforting pie format gives a unique twist on a traditional pot pie, featuring plump oysters combined with creamy sauce, vegetables such as onions and celery, and sometimes bacon or ham for additional flavor. This delicious dish is a classic for a reason!
The filling is encased in a flaky pie crust, creating a fun contrast of textures between the creamy interior and the buttery crust. Oyster pot pie is clearly a food from Charleston, celebrating the city’s coastal location and the rich flavor of the briny oysters harvested from nearby waters.
If you don’t feel up to She-Crab Soup, you can enjoy some of the same flavors in She-crab dip! This is a creamy and indulgent seafood dip, which features the iconic blue crab from Charleston cuisine.
The dip is typically made with a combination of crab meat, cream cheese, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, and a variety of seasonings such as Old Bray or Chesapeake Bay seasoning.
You’ll know this Charleston food by its rich and velvety texture, with sweetness and briny taste mixed in every bite. It is often served warm, either baked in the oven until bubbly or heated on the stove, with crackers or toasted bread. If you’re looking for an appetizer among foods in Charleston, look no further!
Rice Dishes In Charleston Foods
Shrimp pilau is a comforting rice dish that is popular throughout the Lowcountry region, but especially among foods in Charleston.
This is often a one-pot dish with shrimp, cooked in aromatic seasonings such as onions, garlic, and spices, combined with rice and simmered to perfection. The rice on its own is delicious, cooked in a flavorful broth, often infused with other ingredients to enhance the flavor.
This is a very versatile dish that can easily be customized with other ingredients to accommodate different regions and personal preferences. With the combination of great seafood and savory notes, shrimp pilau is a great representation of food from Charleston.
Charleston Red Rice
Charleston red rice is a flavorful and colorful rice dish that features a combination of sausage, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, and blended spices. These spices give the dish its distinctive red tone.
The rice dish is robust and savory, with smoky, tangy, and slightly spicy notes that are sure to delight any palette. You’ll often find this served alongside other foods of Charleston as a side. It’s a great compliment for seafood in particular, so if you see it on the menu, give it a try!
Hoppin’ John is a traditional Southern dish with roots in Charleston, known for its simple yet flavorful combination of black-eyed peas, rice, and ham hocks or bacon.
Among the various classic Charleston foods, this dish is believed to have African origins and has become a staple in Southern cuisine more broadly. If you’re around on New Year’s Day, you’ll find it served often for good luck!
The black-eyed peas are cooked until they are tender, then simmered with aromatics and sometimes meats to create a smoky richness. You’ll typically find this dish served on a bed of rice so that the flavor permeates the rice.
Charleston Crab Rice
Charleston crab rice is a great way to enjoy the flavors of the coast and blue crab that are so common in foods from Charleston. The dish combines cooked rice with succulent crab meat, aromatic vegetables, and blended spices. While the vegetables and seasoning give the dish depth, the crab meat infuses the delicious flavors of the sea.
You can have this as a main dish or a side dish in many restaurants. No matter how you enjoy it, if you like seafood, this is one food in Charleston you have to try!
Carolina Gold Rice
If that isn’t enough rice for you, the Charleston food scene has one more dish to offer: Carolina gold rice. Carolina gold rice is a unique, historic rice that has a special role in the agricultural and culinary history of Charleston. It is an heirloom rice variety that has a distinctive flavor and texture.
The rice gets its name from its beautiful golden hue and nutty, almost buttery flavor, which makes it unique. You’ll find this rice used in a variety of dishes, from risotto to jambalaya. If you want to tap into a bit of Charleston food culture, make sure you look out for Carolina gold rice.
Charleston Foods: Southern Classics
On cooler days, okra soup is a popular choice among all the different Charleston foods on offer. This soup is normally prepared by simmering okra, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and spices in a broth. Some chefs will add meat or seafood for an additional layer of flavor.
Since the okra pods release a natural thickening agent during the cooking process, the soup has a unique, silky texture. Like many foods in Charleston, okra soup features local ingredients and flavors. It makes for a classic, Southern meal anytime!
These delicious wafers originated in Charleston, with a rich history dating back to the African diaspora. They are thin and crisp cookies that are made of toasted sesame seeds, butter, sugar, and flour, resulting in a delicate and nutty flavor. In fact, the word “benne” comes from the West African term for sesame seeds.
Benne wafers are unique among the sweet foods of Charleston since they have a distinctive golden-brown color and slightly-sweet flavor. The nutty flavor comes from the sesame seeds, making the wafer unique. This food from Charleston makes for a great snack or coffee accompaniment.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a dish that is more beloved than this Southern spread. Pimento cheese is made with a combination of grated cheddar cheese, diced pimentos, mayonnaise, and various seasonings. You’ll find this delicious treat served as a dip, sandwich filling, or a spotlight ingredient in other recipes.
The spread can be customized with additional ingredients, like onions, garlic, and hot sauce. These variations offer additional layers of flavor, which can spice up the traditional Southern experience. Make sure you try this Southern gem among all the attractive Charleston foods!
Biscuits & Gravy
When you think about Charleston and the South, one breakfast food likely comes to mind: biscuits & gravy! This classic among foods in Charleston combines fluffy biscuits with a rich and savory sausage gravy. The biscuits are famous for their flaky, tender texture, while the gravy is known for its thick texture and bold flavor.
The gravy is made by cooking crumbled breakfast sausage in roux, then adding milk or cream, and allowing it to thicken. When you’re served, the biscuits are split open and topped with gravy, which ensures the flavors are paired together. If you’re looking for a hearty breakfast dish, this is the perfect choice!
Fried Green Tomatoes
South Carolina foods have a gem in fried green tomatoes. These are beloved Southern delights that are so famous you can find them across the United States. Fried green tomatoes are made by slicing unripe, firm green tomatoes, coating them in cornmeal, and then frying them until they’re golden.
The green tomatoes offer a tartness distinct from red tomatoes and a satisfying crunch from the crispy outer coating. This food from Charleston is most commonly served as an appetizer or a side dish with a dipping sauce. Fried green tomatoes are an amazing way to get a taste of the farm-to-table culture and Southern flair.
Tomato pie is a Southern specialty that takes advantage of the local, ripe tomatoes. This delicious pie features a flaky pie crust filled with layers of sliced tomatoes, seasoned with herbs, spices, and (often) mayonnaise and cream. Since the tomatoes release juice as they bake, the pie develops a creamy, cheesy flavor.
Like many Charleston foods, there are lots of variations when it comes to the tomato pie. It changes based on the region and preferences of the chef.
Unlike lots of dishes, you’ll find this dish served either warm or at room temperature. No matter what version you sample, we’re sure you’ll enjoy tomato pie!
Sweets And Desserts In Charleston Foods
It’s right there in the name, so you know this one is a traditional food from Charleston. Charleston chew is a classic American candy, sometimes candy bar, that has been around for decades. It is known for its chewy texture and indulgent flavor.
Legend has it the name comes from a popular dance, the Charleston, which was popular in the 1920’s when the candy was introduced. It typically has a vanilla nougat center, coated in a layer of rich, chocolatey coating. No matter what your favorite flavor is, you can grab a Charleston chew to match, since they come in vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry.
If you know of any Southern dessert, it’s probably pecan pie. This famous food in Charleston is renowned for its rich, buttery filling packed with pecans. It has a sweet and gooey stuffing made with a combination of eggs, sugar, corn syrup, butter, and pecans. The delish goodness is then poured into a flaky pie crust and baked to perfection.
Among all the Charleston foods and desserts, pecan pie is known for its irresistible combination of flavors and textures, with the crunchy pecans adding a delightful contrast to the smooth filling. Whether you grab this pie for a special occasion or self-indulgence, make sure you don’t miss this star of Charleston cuisine.
Iconic Drinks In Charleston
Light Dragoon’s Punch
If you’re out for a drink, you might encounter Charleston Light Dragoon’s Punch. This is a signature drink of Charleston, with a historic recipe that dates back to the Revolutionary War era. It has become a local tradition, just as much as the classic foods from Charleston.
The punch is made with a combination of spirits, including rum, brandy, and peach brandy, mixed with black tea, lemon juice, sugar, and sparkling water. It’s a refreshing and flavorful drink that captures the essence of Charleston’s history and Southern hospitality more generally.
If one punch isn’t enough to help you wash down all the Charleston foods, you can also give Planter’s Punch a try! While this punch isn’t only found in Charleston, it is popular in the city and throughout the South more generally.
Planter’s Punch is a tropical rum-based cocktail that typically includes dark rum, citrus juices, grenadine or simple syrup, and a dash of Angostura bitters.
The fruity flavor makes it a refreshing beverage that can be enjoyed at a classy restaurant or out by the beautiful beaches of South Carolina. The tropical feel also embodies the laid-back culture Charleston is known for. If you need a cool beverage, give it a try!
FAMOUS FOODS IN THE US
Sampling Famous Foods In Charleston
When visiting this beach-front city, exploring the foods in Charleston should definitely be on your list of to-dos. Although the seafood dishes are amazing, you definitely shouldn’t miss out on the Southern dessert classics, like pecan pie and Charleston chew as well.
If you want to get a taste of everything, consider a Downtown Charleston food tour where you can sample all the delights with other foodies! With the farm-to-table philosophy and special balance of culinary influences, Charleston foods are delicious and unique.