An insider’s guide to the Mississippi Gulf Coast
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Those blessed enough to live in a Mississippi Gulf Coast community (or visit one) know that the ocean generously fills our plates. Down here, there's a deep connection between residents and the sea.

Join me on this culinary journey to explore the flavors, stories, and heritage of the MS Gulf Coast that make this area so unique.

Coastal Cuisine: A Fusion of History, Culture, & Seafood

Mississippi Gulf Coast Fishing Boat

From the bustling fishing ports of New England to the vibrant coastal cities of the Gulf Coast, every seaside region has its own distinct style of cooking that reflects its unique heritage. Mississippi's coastal cuisine is a culinary experience that combines the rich flavors of the sea with the influences of local history and culture.

With fresh catches of fish, shellfish, and crustaceans taking center stage in many dishes, flavors of the sea are celebrated in all their glory.

From the early settlers who first arrived on America's shores to the immigrant communities that have added their own flavors to the mix, each chapter in our coastal cuisine's story adds depth and complexity to the dishes we enjoy today. Some notable influences include Native American, African, French, and Spanish.

These varied influences have shaped the culinary traditions of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, resulting in a unique fusion of flavors that spans many dishes.

Culinary Influences From Local Geographic Regions

Mississippi's version of Alabama White BBQ sauce

From Texas to Florida, the Greater Gulf South is home to a unique blend of flavors influenced by seafood, spices, and cultural fusion. Mississippi cooking reflects regional influences from neighboring states, particularly evident in coastal dishes.

Louisiana, perhaps the most influential neighbor, heavily imprints its creole and cajun essence onto Mississippi cooking. Dishes like etouffee, jambalaya, and the shared love for crawfish can be directly traced to Louisiana's vibrant food culture.

The spices, roux-based sauces, and use of the holy trinity (onions, bell peppers, and celery) are quintessentially Louisianan but happily adopted by Mississippi chefs.

Texas contributes to the bold flavors of Mississippi cuisine, with elements like barbecue techniques and spicy seasonings seeping into local cooking. Soul food like barbecue ribs and potato salad are staples in cities like Biloxi and Gulfport, but the dry rubs reflect Texan techniques.

Alabama shares a deep southern culinary heritage with Mississippi, particularly concerning the shared affinity for seafood like shrimp and oysters. Some MS locals even favor Alabama's iconic white barbecue sauce (a mayonnaise and vinegar-based concoction), frequently drizzling it on their seafood and chicken. A Mississippi-based sauce company is even trying to one-up the Alabama-based formula.

Florida lends a Caribbean and Spanish flair to Mississippi's dishes. For instance, gumbo variations in Mississippi sometimes mirror the Cuban and Spanish influences in Floridian cuisine. Additionally, using citrus (particularly oranges and grapefruits in marinades and sauces) is a nod to Florida's tropical palate.

Coastal Delicacies and Speciality Dishes

From the crispy allure of shrimp po-boys to the deep-rooted history of gumbo, Mississippi dishes tell a story of broad influences and palates. This melting pot of cuisines promises a compelling experience for seafood lovers and adventurous foodies.

Let's take a deep dive into some of the most popular dishes across Mississippi Gulf Coast communities.

You must try the irresistible shrimp po-boy

Shrimp Po Boy - Mississippi Gulf Coast Cuisine

The shrimp po-boy is a beloved coastal delight, the perfect combination of crispy fried shrimp and soft French bread. Whether you're a seafood lover or just looking to try something new, this sandwich is a must-try dish when visiting the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The star of this sandwich is the succulent shrimp, which are coated in a crispy batter and deep-fried to perfection. The shrimp are then nestled inside a fluffy French bread roll, which acts as a vessel for all the delicious toppings.

To add a burst of flavor, chefs frequently slather shrimp po-boys in a zesty remoulade sauce. This creamy sauce is made with mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, and a blend of spices, creating a tangy and slightly spicy taste that perfectly complements the shrimp.

Chiefs then dress the sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and mayonnaise (or, like me, you can eat it plain with American cheese). Pair it with a Barq's root beer (in the glass bottle, of course), and it can't be beaten.

Experience the vibrant and flavorful delight of jambalaya

Gulf Coast Cuisine - Jambalaya

Food experts much brighter than me describe jambalaya as a combination of Spanish, French, and African cuisines. It features a mix of meat, such as chicken, sausage, and shrimp, along with vegetables like bell peppers, onions, celery, and sometimes tomatoes.

The dish gets bold flavors from aromatic spices like paprika, cayenne pepper, thyme, and bay leaves. These spices infuse the dish with a rich and complex taste that will make you return for more.

One of the highlights of Jambalaya is its versatility. You can customize the dish to your liking by adding your favorite protein and vegetables. Whereas the Creole version of jambalaya favors shrimp (and tomatoes), the Cajun version opts for chicken and/or sausage.

The cooking process involves sautéing the meat and vegetables, then adding rice and broth. Then, you simmer the mixture until the flavors meld together. The result is a mouthwatering dish that is bursting with flavor.

Deliciously crispy soft-shell crab: a Gulf Coast delicacy

Gulf Coast Fried Soft Shell Crab Po Boy

The soft-shell crab is simply a crab that has recently molted its old shell, leaving behind a soft and pliable shell that you eat whole. This makes it easy to consume every part of the crab, including the legs, body, and claws.

Chefs prepare soft-shell crab in various ways, such as deep-fried, sautéed, or grilled. Each cooking method brings out different flavors and textures in the crab.

The crispy exterior and tender interior of a deep-fried soft-shell crab combine to create a satisfying crunch with every bite while sautéing the crab in butter or olive oil allows the flavors to meld together and gives the crab a rich and savory taste. Grilling the crab imparts a smoky flavor while maintaining the natural sweetness of the crab meat.

You frequently enjoy soft-shell crab as a main dish. However, some prefer to incorporate the tasty crustaceans into sandwiches, salads, or pasta dishes for variety. Its versatility and unique flavor make it popular among adventurous Mississippi seafood lovers.

The flavorful melting pot that is Mississippi gumbo

Homemade MS Gumbo with Potato Salad

Gumbo is a beloved Mississippi dish that originated in Louisiana. This flavorful stew is a melting pot of traditions, reflecting the ethnicities that have shaped the region over the centuries.

You can trace the origins of gumbo back to West Africa, where a similar dish called okra soup was common. When African slaves were brought to Louisiana, they adapted their traditional recipes to the readily available ingredients.

As time went on, other peoples contributed to the evolution of gumbo. For instance, French settlers in Louisiana introduced roux, a mixture of flour and fat that thickens the stew and adds a rich flavor.

Native Americans added filé powder, made from ground sassafras leaves, which acts as a natural thickener and imparts a striking flavor. Spanish and Caribbean influences brought ingredients like tomatoes and hot peppers, adding a spicy kick.

Savoring the depths of crawfish etouffee

With tender crawfish tails, onions, bell peppers, and a roux-based base, crawfish etouffee embodies flavor and depth. Its rich and savory sauce makes it perfect for seafood lovers looking for an aromatic and delicious meal.

The first step in making crawfish etouffee is to sauté the onions, bell peppers, and celery in a skillet until they are soft and translucent. Next, add the crawfish tails to the skillet and cook them until they are pink and cooked through.

To finish the etouffee, season it with salt, pepper, and a generous amount of Cajun seasoning. This seasoning blend will give it a spicy kick that pairs perfectly with the sweetness of the crawfish.

Serve the mixture over a bed of steamed rice (or, in my house, grits) and garnish with green onions for a beautiful presentation.

Mississippi Gulf Coast Crawfish Etouffee

Popular Food by Coastal Community

As a native Mississippian, I've had the pleasure of experiencing the best foods in all of our distinctive coastal communities. From Bay St. Louis to Ocean Springs, each region has unique culinary traditions and popular dishes.

The delights of locally sourced Bay St. Louis cuisine

Bay St. Louis Seafood - Crabs

Bay St. Louis shines as a captivating coastal town celebrated for its abundant local delicacies and vibrant communal spirit. BSL restaurants prepare innumerable fresh seafood dishes directly on the Gulf of Mexico.

The local restaurants take pride in using locally sourced ingredients and creating dishes that highlight the flavors of the Gulf Coast. Whether you're in the mood for a casual seafood boil at Dan B's, or a fancy seafood platter at Trapani's Eatery, Bay St. Louis has something to satisfy every palate.

A large part of the Bay St. Louis charm is the inviting downtown area. That's where you'll find the majority of the notable restaurants. The atmosphere and downtown vibe are reminiscent of New Orleans without the big city problems.

Biloxi bounty: a Gulf Coast culinary paradise

Biloxi Seafood Market Crabs

From fresh Gulf shrimp to succulent oysters and flaky fish, Biloxi cuisine has something to satisfy every seafood craving. The city's proximity to the Gulf of Mexico ensures the seafood is always fresh and flavorful.

One of the best ways to experience Biloxi's seafood scene is by visiting one of the many local seafood markets. These markets offer a wide range of tasty seafood, including shrimp, crab, and oysters. You can even watch as the fish is cleaned and prepared right before you.

But Biloxi offers more than just seafood. Traditional Southern fare thrives here, with mouthwatering dishes like fried chicken, collard greens, and cornbread in warm, homey settings. Soul food establishments beckon with aromas of slow-cooked pork, tangy barbecue, and hearty stews.

Biloxi's bakeries and dessert parlors are a treat for those with a sweet tooth. Classic Southern pecan pies, beignets dusted with powdered sugar, and rich bread puddings drizzled with bourbon sauce showcase the region's penchant for indulgent desserts.

Add to this an emerging scene of international eateries and modern fusion restaurants, and it's clear that Biloxi's culinary landscape is as varied as its cultural roots. So, while seafood might be Biloxi's crown jewel, the city's expansive menu of delectable options ensures every palate finds its pleasure.

The freedom of flavors in vibrant Long Beach

Long Beach Barbecue

Long Beach, Mississippi, boasts a rich culinary resume that extends far beyond the standard seafood offerings. This charming coastal town has many gastronomic delights catering to diverse palates.

Barbecue joints in Long Beach slow-cook their meats to perfection, letting diners savor every tender, flavorful pork, chicken, and beef bite. They pair these yummy meats with classic sides such as coleslaw, baked beans, and cornbread.

Bakeries and cafes enchant sweet-toothed visitors with decadent cakes, pies, and pastries (many of which incorporate rich, local ingredients). Additionally, various eateries serve up scrumptious plates of Southern classics like fried chicken, collard greens, and mashed potatoes, capturing the essence of homestyle cooking.

From food trucks serving gourmet snacks to cozy diners and upscale establishments, Long Beach cooking accommodates a spectrum of tastes and dining experiences.

Gulfport's global flavors meet Southern charm

Gulfport MS Ethnic Food - Mexican

It’s not just about traditional fare in Gulfport. This Mississippi city has a wide range of international restaurants, so variety is the name of the game.

Piquant Mexican taco spots, homestyle Italian pizzerias, and vibrant Asian eateries reflect the multicultural essence of the city. Be sure to check out El Aguila, which specializes in gourmet Mexican dishes and award-winning margaritas.

Take advantage of the bakeries serving delectable pastries, from creamy Mississippi mud pies to crunchy pralines. And breakfast enthusiasts can revel in fluffy biscuits topped with velvety gravy or buttery grits paired with spicy sausage.

The array of eateries in Gulfport offers a culinary journey that showcases a world of flavors rooted in Southern hospitality.

Delicious coastal cuisine and variety in Diamondhead

Diamondhead MS Cuisine - BBQ Shrimp

A casual dining experience and culinary variety make Diamondhead a popular spot for food lovers looking to avoid the crowds. The town has ample restaurants, from casual bayfront cafes to upscale dining establishments.

Visitors indulge in local favorites like shrimp and grits or freshly caught fish cooked to perfection. If seafood isn't your thing, you can still find eateries specializing in Italian, Mexican, or Chinese fare.

The town also hosts annual food festivals, attracting amateur and professional cooks. These popular events showcase the best local cuisine, including barbecue, craft beer, and red beans and rice.

Whether you're a Gulf Coast resident who hasn't experienced Diamondhead eats or are just in town for a visit, this growing city's culinary offerings won't disappoint.

The award-winning culinary treasures of Ocean Springs

Award-winning Gulf Coast Cuisine in Ocean Springs

Ocean Springs is known for its vibrant arts scene, picturesque downtown, and charming community. But its budding culinary scene is frequently overlooked, as locals keep this secret close to the vest.

The truth is, from award-winning restaurants to cozy cafes, Ocean Springs is a food lover's paradise.

Local chefs Alex Perr and Kumi Omori from Vestige were named 2023 finalists for the James Beard Foundation's Best Chef in the South award (previous winners include Emeril Lagasse and Anthony Bourdain). This farm-to-table restaurant specializes in inventive Southern gourmet dishes.

And be sure to check out Patrick's Seafood Restaurant, which recently won the Best Taste award at the annual Taste of Ocean Springs Food Crawl. This year, they claimed the prize for their irresistible baked stuffed shrimp with seafood sauce.

Whether you're craving fresh seafood, international flavors, or Southern comfort food, you'll find it all in Ocean Springs. And with the town's emphasis on supporting local businesses, you can feel good about every bite.

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