The dishes tend to feature simple, humble food items like grits, fried chicken, black-eyed peas, collard greens, less-desirable parts of the pig, and anything else that wasn’t claimed by wealthier people. However, it has also adopted certain other American favorites, like macaroni and cheese.
Soul food originated in the South, but it came to New York when large numbers of African-Americans sought factory work in major northern cities during the early 20th century. The most famous purveyor of soul food in the city is currently Sylvia'srestaurant, in Harlem.
Andrew Jackson, executive director of Queens Library at Langston Hughes, says soul food is a time-honored African-American cooking tradition that celebrates the best in human creativity and resourcefulness.
Jackson’s family migrated from Mississippi to New York City around WWII and brought their soul food traditions with them. But Jackson is quick to dispel any misconceptions about food and African-American culture.
“Spaghetti is not necessarily a soul food dish, but my family loves spaghetti,” he says. “Everybody does not eat chitlins [chitterlings, a dish of boiled, baked or fried pig’s intestines]. Chitlins is a specialty. I tried it once, didn’t like it, haven’t eaten it since.”
Jackson also points out that families don’t necessarily make all the dishes at the same time — often this only occurs on holidays, large family gatherings, or church events.
Jackson says that when he has the chance to eat it, he doesn’t have a particular favorite soul food dish.
“I’ll try everything. There’s a blending taste with all of them that you get that you can’t get all the time,” he says. “It’s almost like paying respect to the ancestors for providing this tradition to me.”