We were honestly all about the country music when Judi and I set off for a fortnight in Tennessee (which we may have mentioned once or twice?) Then about two days in, perhaps because country music was refreshingly everywhere, we realised the trip had become about food. We’d pull up to each new town and while the local country station kept us informed of gigs, we’d be searching online for where the locals ate and whatever speciality we had to try there. With each new menu, we’d find something to giggle at that you could never imagine reading in Britain and quickly learned there are certain food rules that apply Only in America.
1.The worse the decor, the better the food.
We’d dutifully looked up some of the best food spots around only for our satnav to guide us to the parking lot of some unlikely hovel; a trailer or shack. However having tried some fine dining (which was fine) it was the down and dirty that America seems to do best and had us licking lips, fingers and napkins. The food made us forget the decor in the rocky horror house of Aretha Frankenstein’s in Chattanooga, at Lynchburg’s cluttered Bar-b-que Caboose Cafe and dated Puckett’s Grocery in Leipers Fork (complete with dungaree-wearing, white-bearded men who’ve possibly sat in the same seats since the grocery store canteen opened in the 1950s).
2.You must never admit that catfish is overrated.
Everywhere across the state people will ask if you’ve tried the catfish and it’s better to nod along enthusiastically than admit you have and it was just OK. It’s not horrible, and still worth having once if only to sing “catfish on the table…” while in Memphis, but it’s a watery fish only as good as whatever it’s coated in. If you must try it, Blues City Cafe on Memphis’ famous Beale Street is as classic as it comes.
3.Chicken is a breakfast food.
Brunch is big here and alongside all the glorious variations of batter on menus, you’ll often find southern fried chicken served with waffles or scone-like “biscuits”. Try it at Hattie B’s (a Music Row institution worth the queue) or in the breakfast buffet at Loretta Lynn’s Kitchen (yes, that Loretta Lynn) just outside of Nashville, on the way to Memphis.
4.Breakfast Dessert is a thing.
Because fried chicken might not be enough for breakfast, or because the selection of sweet things on a menu are too good to ignore, it is not strange to order a second course for breakfast. There will always be room for Tavern’s Red Velvet Waffle alongside Nashville’s chic set.
5.A side is not a side.
As Brits, we’d always thought a side was a small accompaniment to a main meal; perhaps a spoonful of peas or a handful of lettuce leaves. It turns out this was another example of the difference between British English and American English. Things we saw in the ‘sides’ section of menus included; steak, a chicken drumstick, bread to go alongside a burger and a mac ‘n’ cheese portion bigger than a UK main meal. Not that we’re complaining.