For those of you who ventured beyond my blog posts and read the “About Me” page of my website, you may recall that I didn’t grow-up eating traditional southern fare, but rather meals heavily influenced by German and Pennsylvania Dutch traditions. So when I heard the term “fried grits” I always thought it was a joke. I mean how can you fry a grit?
On my first visit to Savannah, Georgia, 14 years ago, my eyes were opened. I was treated to a meal at an upscale restaurant that featured shrimp etouffee and fried grits. Not only were fried grits real, but they were delicious. We requested a short meeting with the chef and exclaimed how delicious the meal was and asked how did he prepare the fried grits.
He explained that after cooking grits using veal stock and milk to ensure that the grits are smooth and creamy, they were poured onto a sheet pan, chilled, cut into squares, and lightly fried on each side resulting in a crispy outside and creamy interior. The shrimp etoufee was served on top of the fried grit squares.
Now you ask, “What does that have to do with Arepas?” Let me explain. A few months ago, while staying in south Florida, I reconnected with an old friend whose home of origin is Venezuela. Arepas are like the national comfort food of Venezuela. I’d heard of them, watched Bobby Flay lose a challenge making arepas to two Venezuelan sisters on the Food Network, but I’d never tasted them.
When my friend and I realized we lived only 20 minutes away from each other, she invited me over for dinner and prepared a meal of arepas with multiple fillings.The arepas were wonderfully crispy on the outside and when sliced open for filling, they were creamy. I instantly thought of my first taste of fried grits.
Grits and arepas are made from ground corn. Grits have a coarse grind and arepas are made using a very fine ground, precooked, cornmeal. White is preferred. The white cornmeal was sold out so I purchased the yellow. By cooking grits to a smooth creamy consistency and then frying them the texture is very similar to arepas.
Through the exchange of foods between the “old world” and the “new world”, native American corn has given us the fried grits of southern USA, Venezuelan arepas, cornmeal fufu of west Africa, polenta of Italy, and Nshima of Zambia. This is only a small example of the connections between people, food, and culture.