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Virginia Beach Area Features

Local Cuisine

  By: Jacquelyn Eurice

Southeastern Virginia has a long-standing tradition of exceptional food. The recipes that can be found here are influenced by the region’s indigenous and colonial heritages as well as the surrounding topography.  And one of the best things about traveling is the opportunity to try new foods or learn innovative recipes that are different from those to which you are accustomed. Read on for a guide to the flavors found in the Hampton Roads region.

Virginia Oysters

Being in Hampton Roads means having access to great seafood. Of all the dining choices the sea offers, oysters from this area are some of the best in the nation and the market for oyster tourism has exploded in Virginia. The state has seven different regions that contribute to high-quality oysters of different flavors and characteristics based upon the “merroir” or waters in which they are raised (similar to terroir in viniculture). There’s actually a Virginia Oyster Trail where ostreaphiles (oyster lovers) can learn about this amazing shellfish, lodge near an oyster farm, purchase oyster-related artworks and, of course, taste them.

Here in Virginia Beach, we’re especially fortunate to have the famous Lynnhaven oyster. This specific type of oyster was desired by European royalty and American aristocracy in the 18th and 19th centuries. Nowadays, people come from all over the world to experience this epicurean delight. Plus, this remarkable little creature is essential for the health of the Chesapeake Bay and other local waterways since each adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water in a day. Their shells are made of calcium carbonate and naturally work to balance the pH of water by reducing the water’s acid levels. So after enjoying this little gem, recycle the shells so that oyster reefs can keep up their good work!

Virginia Country Ham

When asked to think of a Virginian food, most people immediately say ham. Not just any ham, but Virginia Country Ham. In Hampton Roads, companies such as Smithfield and Edwards lead in country ham production, but many small independent companies also make hams employing the same methods used by generations before them. Country hams are salt-cured and aged for a few months to a year, giving them a distinctive and desired taste. Many people make the mistake of throwing away expensive country hams that they receive as gifts because they think the hams have gone bad. Country hams come with a layer of harmless mold on them, much like that found on fine cheeses. The mold will come off in the preparation process of soaking and scrubbing the ham.

A popular way to eat country ham is on a small biscuit or roll. A small thin slice is all you need and really, that’s it. Just about every native Virginian host has offered this staple menu item at one time or another. Pan-fried ham slices are also often served with red-eye gravy. After the ham has been cooked, remove it from the pan and stir in a half-cup of both water and black coffee, being careful to scrape up any tidbits left from the ham steak. Slightly reduce the coffee by simmering for about five minutes and then ladle the gravy onto the plated slice of ham and maybe some accompanying grits.

Brunswick Stew

Legend has it that an African-American cook created this Virginian classic in nearby Brunswick County, Virginia while on a hunting expedition. By the mid-1800s Brunswick stew was on everyone’s dining table. It took a few hours to prepare, so it was usually made in sizeable batches and served at large community gatherings. The stew features a barbeque-flavored tomato broth with locally available meats and vegetables such as butter beans, onions, and corn. Traditionally, the meats are thought to have been rabbit or squirrel, but pork and poultry are commonly used in today’s versions. The stew simmers slowly over low heat for a few hours so that it thickens just enough to create a hearty meal. Since most of the ingredients are native to the region, this is as homegrown as it gets!

Peanuts

Finally, a list of Hampton Roads foods is not complete without mentioning a long-standing staple—the peanut. Before Planters and Mr. Peanut took up residence in Suffolk in the early 1900s, peanuts have been grown in the Commonwealth for sustenance. During the colonial era, peanuts were used in countless recipes that even included a peanut soup. At the time of the American Civil War, the legumes were relied on for a food source and Union soldiers brought them back to the North after the fighting had concluded. Now, Virginia peanuts are readily available, and places like Whitley’s Peanut Factory and the iconic Virginia Diner ship them across the nation.

Award-Winning Wine

Feeling thirsty after all of these salty foods? Fortunately, Virginia has been making quite a splash among oenophiles and wine fanciers around the world. In its 2009 Wine Lover’s Guide, Travel & Leisure named Virginia one of “5 Regions to Visit Now.” And the wines have been improving ever since. Virginia now has nearly 300 vineyards, and Williamsburg Winery is one of the region’s most popular wineries. While visiting this quaint oasis, you’ll be able to take a tour of the facility and sample some of their award-winning wines.

These are just a few of the items that make Hampton Roads a travel destination for food and wine enthusiasts. Other contenders for beloved Virginia foods and beverages include she-crab soup, microbreweries and distilleries. As you venture around, you’ll likely be tempted by a celebrated Virginia food. What’s your favorite?

 

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