Immigrants Brought the Flavor

Here’s a link to a recent New York Times article that examines the immigrant provenance of a Mississippi food tradition. According to the piece, “Comeback Sauce” (a spicier and more flavorful variant of Thousand Island dressing) originally appeared in Jackson, Mississippi’s Greek-owned restaurants in the early 1900s. “By midcentury, most of this city’s mainstay restaurants were owned by Greek families,” the reporter claims. We never learn if the sauce has any culinary relationship to Greek cuisine, but other sources – especially Adallis’ Greek Merchants’ Guide, published during the 1910s – show how plentiful Greek immigrant restaurateurs (and employees) were throughout the Southeast.  And the Southern Foodways Alliance recently embarked on an oral history project documenting the Greek-owned restaurant networks of Birmingham, Alabama.

So much of the study of the American “Global South” skips over the era of mass migration at the turn of the century. As a result, studies of southern foodways too often ignore the role that early twentieth century immigrants played in the region’s culinary tastes and traditions.  Studying food culture in a more systematic and sustained way will help scholars and foodies alike better understand the region’s complexity and the role that immigrants have played in southern life.