This month we had the chance to see our community through different eyes, as we introduced our nook of Mississippi to some good friends from the Netherlands, Robert-Jan and his son, Martin. I planned their weekend just as I tend to plan our family vacations: around the meals. Food is central to Southern hospitality, so I figured it was a pretty good way to show the best side of the Hospitality State.
When they arrived on Friday evening, we put together what you might call a light Southern feast – light in volume, that is, but heavy on local food. Anchoring the meal was a beef brisket from Babyduck’s Catering. When it comes to barbecue, I don’t like to let my pork counts get too low, but beef is good for a change every now and then - this one was melt-in-your-mouth tender. Alongside the meat we had some baked sweet potatoes (the stars of Vardaman) and slaw with a touch of local Eaddy’s honey. Our collective sweet teeth were satisfied as we polished off a chess pie that our neighbor brought by earlier in the week, no doubt one of the best I’ve ever eaten. A real Mississippi meal to kick off the weekend.
We got up pretty early on Saturday morning to catch the opening day of the Starkville Community Market. I’d been waiting all winter for the market to open up again, and it was great to be able to show it off to our friends. Back at the house, we spread all our goodies on the table and had a market breakfast: peach preserves from Lancaster Farms slathered over slices of Wholly Bread, along with fresh pita and zatar bread that we used to dip the hummus and baba ghanouj. Robert-Jan and I had broken fresh-baked bread together many times in our years in the “old country”, so for us this meal was a step back in time.
After breakfast we dashed over to Columbus to experience the Market Street Festival. Their number one request was to try something they had seen for the first time just a few days before: funnel cake. They said it reminded them of a Dutch sweet they made on special occasions which essentially translated into English as “oil balls”. Well, there you go. After this second breakfast, we moved on to more savory “first-experience” fried stuff for lunch: a bloomin’ onion, a foot-long corn dog, and gator-on-a-stick. Hot weather and fried street food – oh well, we did it anyway.
As we made our way around the festival booths, we came upon a fellow demonstrating the Swiss Star Peeler, piles of exquisitely sliced vegetables building up around him. Robert-Jan looked at me and said, “You mean you don’t have this already? We have three in our house.” Robert-Jan’s wife is Swiss. He said they liked to have an extra one or two around, because sometimes the peeler accidentally got thrown away with the vegetable peels. That was enough recommendation for me, so I bought three.
To leave Starkville without trying some pork barbecue would have been anathema, so we took them to Little Dooey for dinner. Robert-Jan got the pulled pork and cleaned his plate right up, but Martin took a different path. He was interested in the fish, so I explained the options of whole and filet. He chose the whole fish plate, but didn’t realize until we sat down that he had ordered catfish, and fried ones at that. His picture of a whole fish dinner was a memory from a restaurant we had all frequented across the pond. At this place we went to the fish market first and picked out our own fish, then took it to the restaurant, where they brushed it with sauce, blackened it, and brought it back to us, eyes and all. I offered to trade my meal with him if he didn’t like it, but that turned out to be an unnecessary offer – he picked those catfish bones as clean as a true Mississippian would.
Despite what it must sound like, we did do a little bit more than eat during their visit. They were amazed at the size of the MSU campus, though as European soccer fans, they ribbed us a bit about how the soccer field stood up against Davis-Wade Stadium. And you know you’ve got easy guests when they say, “We’ve heard so much about Wal-Mart – can we go see one?” I’ll bet Kroger and Dollar Tree didn’t realize they had tourists those days, too. What a weekend – a real Dutch treat.
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .