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
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
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.
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
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)