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There’s History in Every Bite of Gullah Cuisine

Libby Wiersema Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.
More from "Libby Wiersema"
Angie Bellinger holding a plate of food
Angie Bellinger's specialties keep the working crowd coming to Workmen's Cafe.

Shrimp, crab, peas, rice, okra and greens - these are some of the nuts and bolts of Gullah dishes. Descendants of enslaved West Africans, the Gullah people have been preparing their special recipes for centuries, with many of the dishes rooted in a culture that is thousands of years old.

The cuisine of the Gullah, who still maintain a presence in South Carolina's Lowcountry and sea islands, relies upon the gifts of land and sea. The ingredients are locally sourced in season in keeping with the ways of old.

Okra soup, purloos (seasoned dishes of rice and meat), seafood soups, red rice, garlic crabs and "Reezy Peezy," a simple mainstay made from stewed field peas, are some of the delicious dishes that can be enjoyed today, thanks to the culinary traditions kept alive by this remarkable culture.

Though most Gullah cooking happens in the privacy of family kitchens, there is a small treasure trove of establishments where you can sample these special foods.

Restaurants with dedicated Gullah menus are rare, so it's likely you'll find Gullah dishes mingled in with Southern or soul food fare. Click here to learn about these distinctions.

Most Gullah-owned restaurants are modest and no-frills, but that's part of the experience. Fancy is fine, but if you want a true taste of South Carolina's culinary heritage, seek out these restaurants and eat the Gullah way.


Bertha's Kitchen, North Charleston

Bertha's Kitchen building
James Beard award-winning soul food is served up in the humble digs of Bertha’s Kitchen.

This James Beard America's Classics Award winner has been serving some of the best Gullah grub around since 1980. Housed in a bright blue building, Bertha's is a landmark where folks line up for lunch and dinner plates on weekdays only.

Try these: Okra soup, stewed chicken with gizzards, lima beans, purloo

Hannibal's Kitchen, Charleston 

Since 1985, locals have sought sustenance from Hannibal's Kitchen, or as owner L.J. Huger puts it, he has been "feeding the soul of the city." You'll find a satisfying mix of Southern and Gullah favorites to fill your plate.

Try these: crab rice, whole whiting, collards with smoked neck bones and pigtails, okra soup


Gullah Grub, St. Helena Island

Bill Green, owner of Gullah Grub, holding ribs
Bill Green and family know a thing or two about smoked meat and other Gullah dishes.

Owner Bill Green proudly touts the Gullah influences of his restaurant, Gullah Grub. Here, food and culture go hand in hand, with Green (the chef and a local teacher of Gullah cooking customs) happily answering customers' questions about the cuisine.

Try these: Fish chowder, crab soup, shrimp gumbo, red rice


My Three Sons, North Charleston

It's a real treat to savor the fare of Alice Warren, a legend in Lowcountry food circles. With more than 40 years in the restaurant business, she knows what she's doing and that experience translates into mighty good eating at My Three Sons.

Try these: Crab soup, okra soup, deviled crab, seafood rice, Gullah rice


Gullah Gullah Fish, Manning

Plate of crab legs, sausage, boiled eggs, corn on the cob from Gullah Gullah Fish
Steamed seafood plates come with corn, sausage and boiled eggs at Gullah Gullah Fish in Manning.

One of the few such eateries located inland, Gullah Gullah Fish seafood market and cafe has grown a healthy following since opening in 2017. The owners claim a Gullah heritage and strive to reproduce recipes that harken back to the 1800s.

Try these: Oxtails, garlic crabs with corn on the cob, sausage and hard-boiled egg, Gullah rice


Ravenel Seafood, Ravenel

Plate of garlic crabs and mallet from Ravenel Seafood.
Dive into a heap of garlicky blue crab at Ravenel’s Seafood.

Pop in for a clamshell container brimming with some of the most finger-licking garlic crabs in the Lowcountry. At Ravenel Seafood, you'll find a couple of tables inside and a few picnic tables outside if you wish to crack into them then and there. The owners will provide you with a mallet and, if they have time, even show you how to use it to best advantage.

Try these: Garlic crabs, seafood gumbo, red rice


Workmen's Cafe, James Island

Angie Bellinger is a hero to the local workforce who show up in droves to dip into the savory buffet. She's a one-woman show at Workmen's Cafe, demonstrating serious cooking chops, whipping up vats of her late mother's favorite dishes and getting them on the steam table in time for the hungry crowds. Bonus: There's a large adjoining dining room, so come on in, take a seat and dig in!

Try these: Lima beans, smoked neck bones, pig tails, red rice, okra and tomatoes, fried fish (on Fridays only)

Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.