Topsail Island’s Shaka Tacos Savor local seafood at this surf shop turned taco stand in North Carolina. Story by Katie DeTar My annual spring vacation to Topsail Island, North Carolina delivers much-anticipated joys of the seaside. But during my most recent trip, the focus unexpectedly shifted from tanning to tacos.
“If you like oysters, then you probably love oysters,” says Dylan Block-Harley, director of operations at Walrus & Carpenter Oysters. “And if you love oysters there’s nothing better than eating them right out of the water.” But if you don’t work at the aquaculture farm in Charlestown, Rhode Island, you can’t really have that experience—unless you manage to snag a coveted spot at one of its summer farm dinners, which happen on a sandbar right in the middle of the oyster farm.
Every state has an iconic food. Think of Maryland and your mind goes to crab cakes, Pennsylvania and it’s a juicy Philly Cheese steak, West Virginia (yes, West Virginia, hey, it’s my home state, I have to show it a little love) has pepperoni rolls, and in North Carolina, it’s barbecue. While these foods may be the first to come to mind, they’re by no means the only foods worth note. Take North Carolina, my adopted home state, as an example. Yeah, we’ve got barbecue—two styles and a dozen great places for each—but with more than 300 miles of coastline we have exceptional seafood, and every ethnic group that’s called this state home has left a greasy thumbprint on our food culture. So, if you’ve got a hankering for some of the iconic foods of North Carolina, here’s my list of where to start.
One ingredient with mysterious origins pops up in dishes across St. Augustine, Florida. In the early 1500s, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon sailed his Spanish galleon through choppy coastal waters in search of the legendary Fountain of Youth. Ponce de Leon was the first documented European to explore Florida’s northeast coast. In 1513 he traveled to a territory inhabited by Seminole Indians. After the Spanish settled what is now the city of St. Augustine, the oldest continuously-inhabited city of European origin in the United States, along came the French, English and free Africans. During that migration, at least one ship contained what has become St. Augustine’s favorite pepper: the datil.