What is Soul Food? The Ultimate Guide With Recipes & Restaurants

What Is Soul Food? Definition Revealed

When you think about soul food, your mouth probably begins to water.

Soul food has become an established part of African-American culture, and it’s impossible to imagine a get together that doesn’t involve some type of soul food on the table.

It might seem self-explanatory, but what is soul food, really?

Today we look at just that.

What is Soul Food? The Meaning Defined

So what is soul food?

If you’re wondering where the name came from, it’s origins probably come from jazz music of the early 20th century.

The music of the time is characterized as being soulful and it’s only normal that the food mirrors the sounds of the time which is where the rich flavors came from.

Outside of this, the history of food simply comes from the classic flavors of African-American history.

While this is how the history of the food came about, it wasn’t always considered “soul food.”

It was simply referred to as food.

The facts might still be a bit blurry, but it is believed that Malcolm X coined this phrase in 1962 which marks how the classic tastes of African-American cuisine became known as “soul food.”

Are Soul Food And Southern Food The Same?

Are Soul Food And Southern Food The Same?

It depends. When it comes to soul food and southern food, it’s not all encompassing.

While all soul food could be considered southern food, all southern food isn’t soul food.

There are classic soul food dishes that everyone is aware of.

While we’ll get into that a little later, there are popular southern dishes that wouldn’t fall into the soul food category.

If you’re a fan of Creole cuisine from Louisiana, there are dishes like crawfish and beignets.

For those who might like Tex-Mex which is a fusion of southern and Mexican cuisine, there are dishes like nachos and fajitas.

Both Creole cuisine and Tex-Mex food are southern food, but they are not soul food.

Alternatively, all soul food is southern food for the simple fact that the dishes hail from the Southern United States.

5 Examples of Soul Food Dishes You’ll Find On A Menu

When it comes to soul food, there are a few dishes that you’ll probably always find on a menu and a few that are hard to come by!

Here’s a look at some popular examples of soul food that you can find on a menu.

Fried Chicken

Fried Chicken is a soul food favorite

When it comes to soul food, is there anything more popular than fried chicken?

Fried chicken is a soul food staple and probably the most popular dish out there.

Let’s be honest. Unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan, everyone can enjoy a crispy piece of fried chicken.

We all love our KFC and Popeye’s. We even love the options at our local chicken shacks, but does anything really beat homemade fried chicken?


Cornmeal is the base of soul food dishes.

If you’re looking for another popular soul food staple, you’ll definitely find cornbread on the list.

The great thing about it is that cornbread can be the base for a host of sweet and savory treats.

Some recipes might include jalapenos and pepper jack cheese.

Others might choose to stay sweet with loading up the sugar and adding ingredients like oranges and cranberries.

Whether you like salt or sugar, cornbread is one soul food staple on every soul food menu.

Collard Greens

Soul Food dishes with collard greens

While tons of people look at soul food like it’s unhealthy, you can’t forget the vegetables that are a popular part of the cuisine.

You can’t necessarily say that soul food vegetables are healthy, but they’re delicious!

Another example of a soul food dish that you’ll find on most menus are collard greens.

To make them even more delicious, you’ll find that most people add bacon in their collard greens.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes soup is a popular soul food dish

Yams or sweet potatoes?

Yams are sweet potatoes, but regardless, they’re both popular on soul food menus!

Sweet potatoes are another popular soul food dish that are common on menus.

While you can find sweet potatoes in their true form, why not spice it up a bit?

You might find sweet potatoes as a casserole, French fries, or hash.


Pork is at the base of many soul food dishes

You might look at this word and wonder, “what is this?”

If we spelled it “chitlins,” you’d shake your head with an “oh.”

While everyone can admit that chitterlings smell horrendous when cooking, they hit once it’s time to eat.

When you learn what chitterlings are, it makes sense why they don’t smell particularly appetizing.

If you’re not a fan of pork or internal organs, chitterlings are actually pig intestines!

The 4 Soul Food Categories That Form Dishes

When it comes to soul food, there are an assortment of dishes you can try.

While this remains true, you could say that soul food falls into four categories: meats, vegetables, grains, and desserts.


Meat is at the center of soul food dishes.

Soul food meat dishes are probably the most popular because who wouldn’t like the classics?

Outside of being a vegan or vegetarian for moral or health reasons, it’s easy to enjoy a good piece of fried chicken.

That’s not all!

Soul food meats tend to be centered around chicken and pork and you’ll see this in dishes like classic fried chicken and ham hocks.

You’ll find a few steak options with chicken fried steak.

While meats won’t be an option for vegans, vegetarians can enjoy another soul food classic – fried fish.


Popular Soul Food Vegetable Dishes

For the vegans and vegetarians, this is where they can indulge in all that soul food has to offer.

While many seem to believe that soul food is all meat, there’s an endless number of other options including vegetables.

From a combination of sweet to savory dishes, soul food vegetables can differ.

Black eyed peas and collard greens are particularly popular.

You can’t forget about okra and sweet potatoes though!

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