Every Southerner has likely eaten their fair share of fried catfish and hushpuppies, but where did that time-honored pairing originate? The answer, as provided by the Southern Foodways Alliance in this film, is Carolina fish camps: simple, family-friendly restaurants catering to blue-collar workers with generous portions of fried fish alongside the essential trinity of hushpuppies, coleslaw, and french fries (washed down with plenty of sweet tea, of course).
Originally established in the 1940s as riverside shacks to feed workers from nearby textile mills, fish camps provided a place where people could feed their whole families without blowing their paychecks. These affordable dining venues were vital to their surrounding communities and helped shape the food culture of the region.
When textile mills were at their peak in the 1960s, so too were fish camps. Although the textile industry would eventually be outsourced, the fish camps continue to be an important part of the community. A handful can still be found today if you know where to look, such as the Twin Tops Fish Camp in Gastonia, North Carolina, where Southern history is served up daily in the form of fried fish and sides. As Dr. Stephen Criswell of the University of South Carolina Lancaster proclaims, “Nothing beats a hushpuppy fresh out of the grease.”