South Carolina might be famous for its Lowcountry dishes, but there’s another side to our cuisine that’s not typically reflected on restaurant menus or in fancy food magazines. Peculiar pairings, those quirky, head-scratching combos enjoyed for generations by Southern folk, are deeply ingrained in our culture. Having largely unknown origins only adds to the mystery of how these weird mashups earned a place in the regional foodscape. No matter, though—they are here to stay and, for plenty of people, that’s good news. Whether they bring on the queasies or make your mouth water, here are a few of the most beloved—and decidedly strange—food duos that a lot of Southerners love to dig into.
Banana and mayonnaise sandwich
Around here, bananas aren’t just for pudding, mayonnaise isn’t just for potato salad and white bread isn’t just for pimento cheese sandwiches. The banana and mayo sandwich is truly the stuff of legends. Consider that Dale Earnhardt Jr. loves it so much, he’s made an instructional video demonstrating how to construct one. And baseball great Matthew LeCroy, who grew up in South Carolina, swears that eating banana and mayo sandwiches before games brought his team good luck.
How to make it: Take two slices of white bread, spread each with mayonnaise, top with sliced banana, put it all together and, boom!—you’ve just made a Southern classic. Winner, winner, banana and mayo dinner!
Peanuts and cola
Peanuts and "co-cola" are good on their own, but the two achieve greatness when mixed—at least according to Southern palates. It’s been theorized that the idea for this odd marriage was invented for easy, one-handed snacking while driving a stick shift or adopted by car mechanics who wanted a peanut snack that didn’t require clean hands to eat. That said, you don’t need a conundrum to indulge in what many consider a South Carolina delicacy.
How to make it: Open an icy cold, glass bottle of cola and take a sip to create some space. Rip the corner off a pack of peanuts (must be salted) and carefully shake them into the cola. Tip it back and take in a mouthful of crunchy peanuts and sweet, fizzy cola. Now, chew those peanuts up and wonder why you never tried this before. Warning: Don’t let your peanuts sit too long in the cola or they will get mushy.
Chocolate gravy and biscuits
No, this isn’t a typo. Gravy wizards across the South have been relying upon the alchemy of cocoa powder, milk and a few other simple ingredients to make this standby for quite some time. The sweetness of the chocolate gravy is the perfect foil for the savory flavor profile of homemade biscuits. Sure, meat drippings are most commonly used as a gravy base, but there’s no denying our longtime love affair with the dark, sweet stuff. In any case, a can of cocoa in the cupboard is a lifesaver in the absence of ham or sausage.
How to make it: Mix ¼ cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon of all-purpose flour. Add the mix to a skillet and, over medium heat, whisk in ¾ cup of milk. Stir constantly until it bubbles and thickens. Remove from heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon of butter, ½ teaspoon of vanilla and a pinch of salt. Ladle over hot biscuits and pass the napkins.
Cornbread and buttermilk
Yes, buttermilk goes into cornbread, but in South Carolina, cornbread often goes into the buttermilk, too. Thought to have been a quick and convenient meal during lean times, this Southern gruel (sometimes called a “crumble-in"), offered hearty sustenance. This was especially true for farm families, who often had plenty of milk and cornmeal on hand. Think of this pairing as breaking bread, Southern style.
How to make it: Into a large glass, crumble a thick wedge of Southern cornbread (fresh or stale, but never use the sweet stuff favored up North) and pour enough buttermilk on top to fill. Take a spoon, stir it all up and eat it like cereal. If you’re not a fan of buttermilk, regular milk is a perfectly acceptable substitute.
Watermelon and salt
Salt is the South’s favorite spice for a reason: It makes a lot of things taste better. In South Carolina, that includes watermelon. If you like your melons especially sweet and juicy, then this is one coupling you’ll want to try. Not only does a sprinkle of salt on watermelon enhance the flavor of sweetness on the tongue, but it entices the salivary glands to get to work. This gives the perception of a juicier melon. Some folks call salted watermelon “Southern Gatorade” as it helps restore the fluids and electrolytes we copiously sweat out when the temps skyrocket. Makes sense and tastes good, too.
How to make it: Cut a slice of watermelon. Sprinkle with salt. Bite it. Be amazed.