Southern American Comfort Food

By: Qian Leung posted Jun 08th 2018 12:31PM

Prior to the arrival of British and Scottish settlers in the 1600s and 1700s, the river valleys of the southern Appalachian mountains had been home to generations of Native Americans such as the Creeks and Cherokees. The region, which extends from the states of Kentucky and Tennesse to Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, had fertile soils on which tobacco, rice, indigo, and cotton were cultivated. To meet the demand for labour, slaves were traded in from West Africa. Today, influences from these cultures, as well as those of French settlers in Louisiana and Spanish settlers in Florida, can be seen in the cuisine known as Southern.
 

 
Hidden by an alleyway on Cook Street is a ten-seater bar conceptualised by the team behind Proof & Company. “In the 1800s, New Orleans was a port town where all the exotic spirits and spices came in,” says Joe Alessandroni. The bar is currently presenting drinks inspired by spiritual home of American cocktail culture, under the title ‘Magnolia’, the southern states flower. Before railroads were developed, the Mississippi river was the main transportation hub for fresh ingredients. This, along with goods from the Europe and Latin America, and the abundance of sailors in search for entertainment, gave rise to a thriving drink culture. “New Orleans drinks are based on sugar and spice, and are warm, and a bit decadent,” says Alessandroni, who grew up in Atlanta in the southern state of Georgia. “I think their food is the same, rich, with layers of spice, which are influences from the French and the Caribbean.”
 

 
Start with a truffled Sazerac, which dates back to the 1840s. “It was originally made with Cognac, and along the way, became associated with rye whiskey,” says Peter Chua, whom you’ll catch behind the bar. “We chanced upon a brandy finished in chestnut barrels, which hasn’t been done since pre-World War II, and decided its chestnut notes would go well with nuttiness from the bitters and rye.” The smoked mint julep is a take on the iconic cocktail from Pat O’Briens in New Orleans, which has been around since the 1930s. The version here is made with High West Campfire whiskey and Plantation pineapple rum. Frozen Irish coffee, which features a 19th century style Cognac with coffee liqueur, ice cream, and cold-brew coffee, is a tribute to the one found at Erin Rose in New Orleans. “During the annual Tales of the Cocktail conference, bartenders would hang out at the 24-hour bar,” says Alessandroni. “It’s a ritual to start your day with a frozen Irish coffee.”

To go with the drinks, try jambalaya, made with Andouille sausage and rice in a flavoursome sauce of tomatoes, green peppers, onions, celery, and Cajun peppers; and muffuletta, with ham, salami, and a green and black olive relish over caraway seed buns. The former originated with French immigrants in Louisiana, while the latter can be attributed to their Italian counterparts. Beignets, square, fried doughnuts with a filling of café au lait custard, is a must-try. “They are most famous from Café du Monde in New Orleans,” says Alessandroni. Of the food, he adds, “I think southern food is really comfort food; it’s generous, rustic, and homemade,” and of the drinks, he says, “It’s inspiring that some of the restaurants in New Orleans are 125 years old, and they’ve been serving the same drinks for all time.” And jazz was invented there, because African slaves would congregate on Congo Square in New Orleans where they’d drum and chant, the sound merging with European brass instruments for what would later become rhythm and blues. Doesn’t it make you want to visit the city? Or head over to these southern diners and bar for a taste!
 
 
Magnolia
43 Tanjong Pagar Road, Singapore 088464
Tel: (65) 8121 1462
 
Adapted from the May Jun 18 issue of Cuisine & Wine Asia.


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