The only time I have ever heard the word Gullah was from a childhood show, Gullah Gullah Island. I didn’t realize it as much when I was a kid because it was just fun to watch, but the show was exposing me to a unique culture of the barrier islands of South Carolina and Georgia, one that still persists today. Down in the Lowcountry, the word Gullah was everywhere I went. I was curious to know more about this group of people who had their own show on Nickelodeon with the catchy song and colorful animations.
I learned their history through reading exhibits at museums, articles online, and speaking to some Gullah people. African slaves brought their culture to the Americas. They came here from Caribbean plantations and brought spiritual beliefs influenced from the islands. Geographically isolated on the barrier islands, they retained their unique Creole language and cooking style. The sweetgrass baskets are almost identical to ones made in Africa. So many new things that I was seeing in this region were beginning to make sense as I learned about the culture!
So with my new found interest I was thrilled to see that there was a place to try Gullah cuisine as we made our way from Charleston to Savannah. Right in the popular town of Hilton Head we found Dye’s Gullah Fixin’s [840 William Hilton Pkwy, Hilton Head Island, SC 29928] right off the main drag, in a shopping center, in an office building.
Interesting location, don’t let it deter you. Enter and you will find the storefront and Dye may greet you.
The space is cozy and cheerily decorated with bright colors and cultural art upon the walls.
We were the only ones in on an off hour and felt so comfortable talking with Dye, who sat down with us. She told us about how the vegetables were grown out in the garden and fish were caught fresh and local. I loved it how this was just a matter of fact, not something that had to be labeled as ‘farm to table.’ We talked about her family, saltwater catfish, Bobby Flay, the weather, and before we knew it the food was out – hot and a lot.
All of the Lowcountry favorites are on the menu, anyone can find something they will love. The first nibble was on corn bread, the most dense (and best!) I have ever head! She told us it was made with sweet potatoes. Jeff went for the fried chicken, which I had to try, and it blew anything I’ve ever had up north out of the water. Everything is made from scratch and cooked fresh. Dye told us unlike most places who deep fry the chicken, she pan fries it making a ridiculously delicious crust and such juicy meat. Mmmmm. For sides Jeff went for the gooey scrumptious mac and cheese and yummy black eye peas.
My dish was the wittling fish, which was unbelievably tender and light. I rarely get fried fish so it was such a treat, the contrast in texture, the perfect amount of salt, absolutely melt in your mouth good – even more so when dipped into the homemade tarter sauce. Wow, heaven. The sides were equally as amazing, the collards were so much better than any I had ever had. I couldn’t stop eating them. I had never had butter beans, they really do naturally taste buttery, so addictive.
We had the best experience at Dye’s and if we are ever in Hilton Head again, I know it’s the first place I am going to run to. I love learning about culture through food, especially when it tastes as good as this!