“Next time some smartass foreigner, horrified by our latest ham-fisted foreign-policy blunder wonders out loud, ‘What good is America?,’ well, you always pipe up that the blues, rock-and-roll, R&B, and soul all came out of this place … Mississippi.”
“When you’re talking about high-end traditional Southern cooking, you’re talking plantation-slavery cooking, because that’s where these recipes came from. So to revel in that, you don’t want to tumble into nostalgia. The potential for awkwardness and offense is enormous.”
“I’m a Yankee, so for me, it’s kinda shocking to see this flag, the Confederate flag. It means a lot of things to a lot of people, first and foremost meaning, ‘I’m not a Yankee, and I don’t much care what you think.’”
“There’s no doubt that much of Mississippi history is ugly, from slavery—which was pretty much the backbone, the foundation of industry here from the get-go—to Jim Crow, lynchings to church burnings. Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till, killed for talking sass to a white lady in 1955. The assassination of Medgar Evers in 1963. The murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman in 1964. Hell, they had to send in 30,000 armed federal agents, national guardsmen, and military police just to enforce federal law, allowing a black man to attend state college—a notion that was, shall we say, less than popular here. To be honest, that was about all I had for an image of the state of Mississippi. That was all I knew, and it hadn’t occurred to me to look further. But I’ve traveled the world since then, and I visited and learned to love many places not my own, cultures and beliefs very different from the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Why can’t I love Mississippi?”
“This is a deeply, deeply conservative state, to say the least, right? This is a tough question—because I’ve got my own opinion: Is it more racist than New York?”
“Oxford, Mississippi, is a lovely, incongruously eccentric little island, a mutation, a college town, a magnet for writers, thinkers, and oddballs drawn perhaps by its rich literary tradition.”
“There isn’t really any fixed idea of Mississippi barbecue.”
“You think the right people get the credit for Southern cooking as we know it?”
“Writers, as I know from looking in my own dark heart, are generally terrible people. Put 10 of them together and it’s like putting your head in a bag full of snakes.”
“The way I’m organizing my thoughts is starting to change.”
“Thursday night is family night at Po’ Monkey’s—mostly locals, a mixed bag. The music is classic R&B and predisco soul. The attitude, loose. Just familiarize yourself with those rules and there won’t be a problem.”
Echoes of history
Outsiders often believe states like Mississippi are places where racism is far more rampant than in the North. But at least people there are grappling with the United States’ race issues every day, as opposed to tucking them away, Bourdain says.
“In the cities of the North where I come from, in some ways we’ve been able to buy ourselves free from our past,” Bourdain says in this episode. “New arrivals pour in with no memory of the ugly parts of our history. We can afford the luxury of the new. We can live in comfortable bubbles, our apartments high in the sky. In many ways, more separate than at any time in history. But for Mississippi the past is right there to see, still present, and coming to terms with it, not in abstract discussion, but the daily business of life.”
509 North Farish Street
Bourdain ate: smokes (smoked-sausage sandwich) and ears (pig’s ear sandwiches), hot tamales.
(Moving to a new location; check website for details)
Bourdain had: drinks.
502 Nelson Street
Bourdain ate: classic Delta dinner of Doe’s famous salad, hot tamales, fries, shrimp, porterhouse steaks, and no dessert.
1028 South Davis Avenue
Bourdain ate: classic Southern soul-food buffet of collard greens, fried okra, mac ’n’ cheese, lima beans, red beans, neck bones, rice and gravy, a piece of fried chicken.
722 Carrollton Avenue
Bourdain ate: the special salad with Italian vinaigrette, steak, shrimp, onion rings, and pompano.
152 Courthouse Square
Bourdain had: drinks and finger food.
Currently closed, reported to be re-opening
Bourdain had: drinks.
Know before you go
The only way to get into Willie “Po’ Monkey” Seaberry’s Po’ Monkey’s Lounge, one of the best juke joints in Mississippi, is to abide by a few dress codes: no backward hats, no sagging pants.
Geno Lee: owner of local restaurant Big Apple Inn.
John T. Edge: co-founder and director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, which works to document, study, and preserve Southern food.
PyInfamous (born Jason Thompson): hip-hop artist, activist, youth mentor in Jackson’s church and public-school systems, owner of a marketing agency.
John Ruskey: river guide and owner of Quapaw Canoe Company, which leads expeditions on the Mississippi River and its tributaries; runs an apprenticeship program for youth, mainly in underserved communities, in Mississippi and Arkansas.
Julia Reed: journalist, Greenville native, and author most recently of Julia Reed’s South: Spirited Entertaining and High-Style Fun All Year Long (2016).
John Currence: chef and owner of City Grocery and Lamar Lounge, two establishments in his Mississippi restaurant and bar “dine-asty.”
Willie Simmons: longtime state senator and owner of The Senator’s Place restaurant.
Jack Pendarvis: Oxford-based author of Your Body Is Changing and staff writer for the game-changing animated series Adventure Time.
Bill Griffith: curator of the Rowan Oak Museum at Ole Miss, which was William Faulkner’s estate for more than 40 years.
Willie “Po’ Monkey” Seaberry: owned and ran juke joint Po’ Monkey’s Lounge for more than half a century.
Juke joints (pronounced “juhk joints”): a bar with music, often from a jukebox, and dancing.
Gullah: descendants of enslaved Africans in the South, particularly South Carolina and Georgia, who speak a creole of the same name.
Hot for hot tamales
Tamales are, “at this point in history, about as Mississippi as they are Mexican,” Bourdain says.
“Like the blues, they came out of Mississippi in the early 20th century, as Mexican migrant workers came in to replace African-Americans, who were headed to work in the great factories and stockyards of Chicago and Detroit.”