If you stop by La’Wan’s Soul Food Restaurant in south Charlotte for collards and macaroni & cheese, there’s something important on your plate.
It’s a small cornbread muffin. Soft and tender, almost cake-like, with a bit of chewiness to the crust and a flavor that’s just a little sweet.
Now drive over to Lupie’s Cafe on Monroe Road and you’ll get a big square of cornbread, 3 inches across, white with a yellow tinge. Firm, almost coarse, with a crisp top.
Sweet? Not a bit. It’s defiantly not sweet.
La’Wan’s corn muffin and Lupie’s cornbread are humble things. But they represent something deeper: The dividing line between black Southerners and white ones. As examples of one of the defining staples of Southern food, they also are a marker of food history that speaks volumes about origins and identity, about family and what we hold dear.
It also raises a question: So many Southern food traditions are shared by both races. Most Southerners, black and white, revere fried chicken, pursue pork barbecue and exalt their grandmothers’ garden vegetables. So why is there such a fundamental difference between two styles of one basic bread?