The state: Known for floods, white supremacy and teen pregnancy, Mississippi also boasts the countryâs lowest rates for health care, income and educational attainment. Woof. But the Magnolia State has birthed more than its share of luminaries, including William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Morgan Freeman, B.B. King and Elvis Presley. Also 3 Doors Down. And Oprah (who sadly left the state at age six).
The food: Mississippi produces the majority of farm-raised catfish eaten in the United States, with about 60 percent of countryâs supply grown within a 65-mile radius of Belzoni, a Delta town that hosts an annual catfish festival featuring a beauty pageant and catfish eating contest. (The fest will celebrate its 40th anniversary next year, so book your tickets now. Look at the dewy cheeks on that catfish court! Canât make it all the way to Mississippi? Celebrate National Catfish Day, established by Ronald Reagan in 1987, every June 25.) Itâs no surprise, then, that a deep-fried version of this whiskered bottom feeder is the stateâs signature dish. The fish, either whole or cut into fillets, is dredged in cornmeal and spices and then fried in oil. The result is hot, flaky and delicious.
Get it from: Whether by design or happy accident, Mississippi Avenue is the place for Mississippi cuisine. That's where youâll find Miss Kateâs Southern Kitchen (4233 N Mississippi Ave., 724-7878), owned by Charlie Hudes, whose grandmother Kate Koestler was a bridge-playing socialite in Vicksburg, Mississippi. In between meetings of her garden club, Mamaw Kate cooked up Southern fare that was, we have on good authority, âjust heavenly,â including fried chicken, red beans and rice, coleslaw and biscuits and gravy. And, of course, fried catfish. At Hudesâ cart, a catfish plate ($11) comes loaded with a super buttery biscuit, two sides (think mac ânâ cheese, creole fries or collard greens) and four pieces of freshly fried fish. That fish is eminently satisfyingâthe batter is crisp and peppery, and the meat inside sweet, white and flaky. I neglected to ask if this particular catfish had been grown in Mississippi, but it still tasted like something youâd be served at a family cookout in the Delta on a sticky summer night, fat mosquitoes biting at your ankles and Skynyrd blasting from a pickup truck.
Click on the map to see each state's distinctive food and where to get it in Portland.