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17 Old-Fashioned Food Terms You'll Only Hear in the South

From potlikker to chow-chow, these fun words for iconic dishes are regularly used in the South.
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The South is known for its rich culture, influential music scene, warm hospitality, and, of course, delicious food. From Po'boys to possum pies, the Southern states have outdone themselves by providing many lip-smackingly good dishes with some names that are just as equally unique.

If you ever wondered what a "potlikker" actually was or where "hummingbird cake" got its name from, then read ahead.

Here are 17 old-fashioned food terms you'll only ever hear in the South. And for more, check out these 15 Classic American Desserts That Deserve a Comeback.



packages of chitlins
Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock

Chitlins, which are sometimes referred to as chitterlings, are a special staple in American soul food cooking. Made typically from hog intestines, chitlins are stewed for hours, battered, then fried, and they're usually served with apple cider vinegar and hot sauce.

Besides being a popular dish in the Southern U.S., chitlins are also a delicacy served worldwide and can be found in many Spanish, Asian, French, Jamaican, and Latin American kitchens. It's said that chitlins date all the way back to Medieval times when this food was commonly eaten by the very poor.




Potlikker, sometimes spelled "pot liquor," refers to the water that is left behind in the pot after boiling greens or beans. It contains important vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, vitamin K, and iron.

Instead of dumping out your water after boiling mustard greens, you may want to think again. In lieu of discarding, just season the liquid with a little salt and pepper, add a bit of smoked turkey or pork, and voila, you will have a quick and delicious meal with hardly any prep time.



hush puppies on wax paper with dip
Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

The word "hushpuppy" may evoke visions of adorable pets or a popular old-school shoe brand if you are not from the South. However, in Southern states, "hushpuppy" is the name for a deep-fried food made of eggs and flour and mixed with cornmeal, a popular staple that originated with the Native Americans. Hushpuppies are often served as a side dish and sometimes are made with garlic, whole kernel corn, and peppers as well.




Hoecakes, also at times referred to as johnnycakes, are a type of cornmeal flatbread that is made using ground corn, salt, and water. The dish, which is often served with sweet toppings such as honey, maple syrup, and fruit, dates back hundreds of years and has roots in southern Native American cooking. In addition to the South, these cakes are also popular in New England.

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Hummingbird Cake

slice of hummingbird cake with cream cheese frosting

Don't worry, none of our buzzing feathered friends make an appearance in this delectable dessert. Hummingbird Cake, which is a dessert favorite down South, features a cake made with banana, pineapple, cinnamon, vanilla, and pecans, served with a sweet cream cheese frosting. The cake, which originated in Jamaica, is named after the island's national bird.


Possum Pie

chocolate pie
Ekaterina Smirnova/Shutterstock

No, possum pie is not what it sounds like it is. Instead, possum pie is a sweet dessert typically made using chocolate custard, vanilla pudding, pecan, cream cheese, and sour cream. Exceptionally popular in Arkansas, this mouthwatering treat, which is covered in whipped cream, is named after the opossum's cleverly deceivable nature.


Corn Fritters

corn fritter balls with dip

Corn fritters, a scrumptious snack consisting of corn kernels, flour, egg, and milk, is an easy-to-make dish served in many Southern homes. Typically topped with fruit, jam, and honey, this delicacy has roots in both Native American and Indonesian cuisine.

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bowl of chow chow mustard relish with spoon
Merrimon Crawford/Shutterstock

Chow-chow, a popular Southern condiment, is a delicious relish made from a mixture of vegetables including tomatoes, onions, cauliflower, peas, and sometimes cabbage. It is believed that this tasty dish made its way south when the Acadian people of Nova Scotia migrated down to Louisiana. Served on its own or on top of fish, hot dogs, or hamburgers, this delicacy will add some extra "oomph" to any meal.


Killed Lettuce

pile of fresh and wilted lettuce

No worries, Killed Lettuce is not as violent as its name may suggest. In actuality, it is a popular dish served in the southern Appalachian Mountain region. Made from greens and onion, and tossed in hot bacon grease, Killed Lettuce gets its name from the wilted look they take on when the warm drippings are poured over it.


Shoofly Pie

Shoofly pie

Shoofly pie, which is a staple dessert of the Pennsylvania Dutch, is also a popular treat found down South. Made from ingredients such as molasses, sugar, flour, and egg, the pie features a crunchy top layer of brown sugar crumbs. Some say the baked good got its name from the act of bakers shooing flies away as it was being made, while others think that the name may be derived from the old 1800s song "Shoo Fly, Don't Bother Me."

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roasted peanuts with salt in brown bowl

When you hear the word "goober," you may automatically think of the tasty chocolate-covered peanut candy made by Nestle. However, in the South, "goober" is just another term for peanut. The crop, which is native to South America, was actually adopted by Spanish traders, brought to Africa, and then made its way to the southern U.S. by slave ships. The name "goober" is derived from the Kongo and Kimbundu name for the food, "nguba."



pickles in jar

Koolickles, which are Kool-aid marinated pickles, are an unexpectedly delicious snack popular among children in the Mississippi Delta. To make a batch of your own, just grab a jar of dill pickles, pour out half the brine, add a packet of Kool-Aid, some water, and a bit of sugar, and then let your pickles soak.



slugburger with onion rings

Slugburgers may sound like they are made from some unique ingredients, but we can assure you there are no slime-covered mollusks between these buns. Instead, slugburgers are meat and soy patties deep-fried in oil and often served with a side of French fries or onion rings. The burger, which has roots in Northeast Mississippi, is said to be named after the slang term for the small metal disk once used in vending machines.

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divinity christmas candy on dish

If you are not familiar with Southern sweets, then divinity candy is the treat you didn't know you needed. Made from sugar, corn syrup, egg whites, and often topped with nuts, you may find that this candy's consistency closely resembles that of nougat. Some believe it got its name when someone, upon tasting the recipe for the first time, exclaimed that it was "divine."



jars of wickles spicy relish

If the Koolickles didn't do it for you, maybe the palatable Wickles will. Wickles, which originated in Alabama, are a type of spicy pickle perfect for topping hamburgers and hot dogs. Using a 70-year-old family recipe, Wickles have grown to include their own line of products, featuring pickled okra and red jalapeno relish.


Hoppin' John

hoppin john in bowl

Hoppin' John, made from black-eyed peas, rice, onions, and sliced bacon, is a Southern favorite that is most often served on New Year's Day for good luck. Hoppin' John's roots are in West African cuisine, inspired most specifically by the Senegalese recipe for a similar dish called thiebou niebe.




Maybe one of the most famous Southern sandwiches, the Po'boy is a traditional Louisiana sandwich made from either roast beef, fried seafood, crawfish, or oysters and served on New Orleans French bread. If you are heading down to Mardi Gras this year, be sure to try one of these lunchtime favorites while in town.

Whether you grew up in the South or just have an affinity for Southern food, these are some oddly named—but delicious—options you won't want to miss.

A previous version of this article was originally published on Jun 23, 2022.

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Brittany Natale
Brittany Natale is a food and lifestyle writer. Read more about Brittany
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