The best foods to try while studying in the Southeast USA

a hot chicken sandwich

When you’re an SAF Scholar, one way to get to know your new study home is through food. Get a taste of Southern comfort food as part of your study abroad experience in Southeast USA. It has deep roots in Southern and African-American culinary traditions dating back centuries, and many classic dishes are affordable and filling – ideal if you’re on a budget but want to dine out occasionally.

Hot Chicken in Nashville

Put your love of spices to the test in Music City when you’re studying at Vanderbilt University. Almost as famous as country music, hot chicken is Nashville’s most famous local food. It’s classically served on the bone on white bread with pickles – the darker the chicken, the hotter the dish.

The spice part comes from pan-frying the chicken in a cayenne paste with different levels of spiciness. Hot chicken originated in Nashville’s African-American community in the 1930s, and today chefs across Nashville put their own twist on the traditional recipe. There are even vegetarian versions.

Just steps from campus is Hattie B’s Hot Chicken with heat levels for its hot chicken ranging from ‘Southern’ (no heat) to ‘Shut The Cluck Up!!!’ (the hottest).

Mississippi Mud Pie

Named after the dark, thick mud along the Mississippi River, this delicious chocolate dessert is a must when you’re at studying at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). The classic Mississippi mud pie has a layer of chocolate custard or pudding on a biscuit crust with a layer of whipped cream or marshmallow fluff on the top. Some chefs sprinkle pecan nuts on top too.

The exact origins of the pie are unknown but it definitely has its roots in the American South. It became popular in the 1970s, featuring in cookbooks and popping up in diners across America. If you have use of a kitchen, why not have a go at making your own Mississippi Mud Pie. Or pop over to Ajax Diner, a couple of blocks from Ole Miss campus, for a slice.

Fried Green Tomatoes in Tuscaloosa

This Alabama dish has been around since the 19th century, but it didn’t claim its Southern roots until the release of the film Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café in 1991. The café in the movie is based on Irondale Café in Birmingham, Alabama, which would occasionally have it on their menu.

After fans of the movie came in search of the dish, it become a staple not just at this café, but across Alabama. Today, thanks to the movie, fried green tomatoes is now a popular Southern dish. If you’re at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, wander down to nearby Flavaz Seafood & Soulfood Restaurant where it’s always on the menu.

Cheese Dip from Arkansas

Arkansas-style cheese dip is a twist on the traditional queso dip swapping Velveeta cheese and canned tomatoes or green chilies for real cheese and extras like jalapeños, garlic, and cumin. It’s perfect with a plate of tortilla chips or as a nacho topping.

Created in the 1930s at a Mexican restaurant in Little Rock, cheese dip grew in popularity and spread across the state, including to Fayetteville. So, if you’re an SAF Scholar at the University of Arkansas, try the cheese dip at Sabor Guacamole, just a five-minute walk from campus.