The time I spent in and around Asheville North Carolina made me feel for the first time that I was really in "The South".
Coming over the misty passes of the Great Smokey Mountains, over the Blue Ridge Mountain Range in the foothills of the Appalachians, the roots-music fanboy in me was already squealing. All around me were the places from the songs and books I grew up with. This was the South of bootleggers and outlaws.
The food in North Carolina was mind blowing but in a most unexpected way; this time it wasn’t the pork or the sandwiches that moved me but a simple roadside snack: boiled peanuts.
These salty, sweet, and deeply spiced caramel-colored morsels left me totally dumbfounded. They reminded me most of all of Lao Seoi--the Chiu Chow “master stock” of cloves, star anise, peppercorns, dried orange peel and many other spices used in Eastern Guangdong to braise everything from whole geese to tofu--mixed with peanut butter.
There really is no excuse for why these aren’t available in every city in the world. I can’t imagine a better accompaniment to a double bourbon.
An impromptu picnic of boiled peanuts and local watermelon from the farmers market, with lumps of pulled pork and chopped beef brisket in tangy vinegar, and iced lemonade was my most happy-making meal on the whole road trip. I ate it with mom, my uncle, my cousin and her new husband all gathered around spread newspaper on the front porch, watching the rain fall on the hills ringing the horizon line; we ate with our hands, working through a roll of paper towels.
Asheville doesn’t have a local style of barbecue like they do in Lexington further to the West but that didn’t stop me from eating it for two of my four meals there.
If I noticed anything unique about Asheville barbecue it was the bizarre flavored barbecue: barbecue joints around town advertised daily specials of strawberry mint bacon or blueberry ribs (?!). I didn’t try them and I don’t regret it one bit.
The barbecue I did try, for example from 12 Bones Smoke House in Asheville’s River Arts District, was very good but aside from chopped beef brisket lightly dressed in red and served with paper-thin raw onions, not exceptional.
At Moe’s Original I was happy to see they served white barbecue sauce, a specialty from Alabama made from mayonnaise, vinegar, salt, and pepper that can be hard to find outside of the state. Like at every barbecue joint I tried in the South, the greens were a revelation but it was the Alabama style pulled pork bathed in white sauce and served with thick cut pickles that made the biggest impression. The flavors reminded me strongly of one of the most over-the-top Cantonese dishes I used to order at cooked food centers in Hong Kong, Ribs in Salad Sauce: basically thick chunky pork spare ribs submerged completely in a big bowl of pink Thousand Island dressing.
Trust me, it is just as good as it sounds.