If you’ve ever been anywhere in the Carolinas or even Southern Virginia, you’ve come across the word “Calabash”. Some folks may think of the town and some may think it might be a Native American Tribe or maybe a river when they hear it. One thing is for sure, it sure goes hand in hand with something near and dear to us Carolinians: Cooking!
The word Calabash finds its roots (pun intended) in the gourd which grows all over the world, but is very prominent in our area. It’s also called a “bottle gourd” because well, it looks like a bottle! In fact, in China it has been used for centuries to hold liquid, rice, and just about anything. Because of its shape, it makes tying a ribbon, string, or rope around it quite easy. Its scientific name is Lagenaria siceraria, which is really fun to say! But, I digress…Let’s talk about why YOU need to know about the word “Calabash” and why you’ll see it all over the Grand Strand.
Calabash is a town just over N.C. border in our area. It’s known for its friendly folks and fresh seafood, right off the boat. Here you’ll find restaurants like Ella’s, Beck’s, and Captain Nance’s. You can’t go wrong in visiting any of these and you’ll get a true taste of what makes great Calabash Cookin’. The origins of this great cooking style is believed to be when the Coleman family of Calabash began lightly breading their shrimp, fish, and making hush puppies. They believed by not making the batter 3 inches thick (we’re talking to you, British Fish and Chips!) that the true flavor of the seafood comes out. As millions of happy and full folks can attest – they were right! Calabash seafood is not overcooked at all, only being in the hot oil until the batter is golden brown, with just the right amount of grease.
Another one of the defining characteristics is the portion size of Calabash cooking. Of course, you can get your fill at one of the many buffets here, like Benjamin’s, but if you aren’t served a heaping pile of delicious piping hot shrimp, oysters, scallops, flounder, and/or hushpuppies – it ain’t Calabash! Calabash Shrimp is the most popular seafood dish in the Carolinas. You won’t find large shrimp fried up to perfection, only the small bite-sized ones perfect for dipping in cocktail sauce or remoulade. Every seafood restaurant or buffet you visit here will serve these delicious morsels.
If you are traveling from the anywhere but the Southeast, you may know Calabash Shrimp by other names like “popcorn shrimp” or “baby shrimp”. When I lived in New Orleans, I saw “Shrimp Poppers” on the menu. I asked what it was and the waiter described them. I said “Oh, that’s Calabash Shrimp!”. He looked at me as if I had shrimp crawling out of my ears!
You absolutely can’t go wrong in trying Calabash Cooking when you visit the Grand Strand. It’s not the healthiest option, but – all good things in moderation, right? Visit these great places on your next trip:
North Myrtle/Myrtle Beach:
Longs (15 min drive N from NMB):
Seaman’s (totally worth the drive!)
Jason Coker is originally from the metropolis of Burlington, NC and is passionate about vacation experiences. An aficionado of music, sports, and all things geeky, Jason spends his free time performing music, grilling out, and relaxing with his son, daughter, and lovely wife, Amy.