South Carolina is known for its sunshine, beaches, and of course, seafood. The warm waters are swimming with an ecosystem of lifeforms that have sustained the coastal economy and culture for centuries. While the history of these fisheries casts a wide net of influence over the region’s cuisine, no dish is more synonymous with South Carolina than fried catfish.
For many, this simple fish is more than just a meal. Black Americans in the South have always embraced the dish not only for its taste but for its connection to the traditions of our ancestors.
The tradition of the fish fry can be traced back to stories from the plantations— during the weekends when the workload was slow, enslaved peoples were permitted to fish for their own food and bring it back to their quarters to cook. These times were used as a way to commune with each other, and over time, became a ritual of survival and celebration.
During the Great Migration, in which Black people traveled North to freedom in the early 20th century, the fish fry, along with other iconic slave cuisines, became a means of generating currency as freed slaves traveled to Northern states to create a new life. Today, it’s no surprise that, after Asian Americans, Black Americans are the second largest consumers of fish in the United States, with catfish and the fish fry still being a pivotal part of our culture and community.
Now, as we look to honor rituals of the past with a lens focused on sustainability, recreating South Carolina fried catfish with eggplant is a nod to the ingenuity and creativity of those who came before.
This recipe combines all the flavors and fellowship of a fish fry with environmentally conscious ingredients to create a dish that celebrates both heritage and health.
Check out more Black American dishes made vegan here.