Famous Charleston Food. Sandlapper Water Tours Blog

Food lovers in Charleston do not suffer from a lack of dining choices in the city’s respected food scene–especially for traditional, authentic famous Charleston food. Here are a few of the food treasures passed down from early Gullah generations and travelers to this historic U.S. city.

Famous Charleston Food

Shrimp and Grits

Perhaps the most famous Charleston food is shrimp and grits are made from ground white corn, which has a soft, creamy texture compared to yellow cornmeal. The recipes use half milk/half water and some include white or yellow cheddar cheese. The sautéed shrimp nest on top of the grits. They’re often cooked with tomatoes, onions, garlic, parsley, red or green bell peppers and sometimes Tabasco.

Want to try? Visit the Early Bird Diner on Savannah Highway where you can choose between shrimp sautéed with tomatoes and bacon or coated with sweet, spicy jelly.


Gumbo, Angolan for okra, is a classic soup or stew enjoying widespread popularity. It’s characteristic smoky aroma and flavor comes from the roux, which is a flour and oil mixture painstakingly cooked until its coffee brown. Sweet peppers, onions and okra are added and cooked until soft.

The broth, whose base is chicken or seafood, is added near the end of cooking, as well as the chicken, sausage or seafood. The final step is to add the file, which is ground sassafras leaves. Gumbo is served with rice in the bowl or as a side.

Want to try? Visit the Glass Onion in Charleston where you can have cornmeal-fried catfish served over their famous chicken gumbo.

Lowcountry Boil

Lowcountry boil is a one-pot meal normally cooked outdoors in a large pot. The traditional boil contains corn on the cob, red potatoes, crawfish and shrimp mixed with boil seasonings and salt. Once the potatoes are tender, the boil is dumped on a table covered with newspapers.

Diners fill their paper plates and leave the remains on the table. The papers are folded up and thrown in the trash. Once a seasonal dish, modern food transportation keeps it available year-round.

Want to try? Bowen’s Island Restaurant near Folly Beach on Bowen Island is known for its Lowcountry boil.

Country Captain

Country captain, a fried then stewed chicken with vegetables served over rice, has its origins in India. Historians believe a British officer brought the dish to Charleston after docking a ship in the harbor in the 1800s.

The original ingredients included golden raisins, curry, and sliced almonds. Since then, variations include whole tomatoes, slivered almonds, green bell peppers and garlic.

Want to try? Hominy Grill on Rutledge has a reputation for good country captain. Its owner and chef, Robert Stehling, is a James Beard award winning chef.

Want to learn more about Charleston’s unique culture? Experience it first-hand with Sandlapper. Schedule your tour today.