Jul 23, 2023 - Food and Drink

The history behind fried seafood and spaghetti

Fried shrimp served with a side of spaghetti and coleslaw.

Haire's Gulf Shrimp. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Seven years ago, I stumbled on a Chicago food mystery when my WBEZ pal Natalie Moore took me to Haire's Gulf Shrimp on Vincennes for some of the tastiest fried shrimp in the city.

The intrigue: Along with that signature shrimp, Haire's makes just three other foods — coleslaw, fries and spaghetti. Spaghetti?

  • When I asked Moore to help me understand what spaghetti's doing on the menu, she shrugged and said, "That's just what you eat with fried seafood."

Fast forward: This summer I stumbled upon the answer in a New Yorker article about Black foodways.

  • It cites research from "Soul Food" author Adrian Miller, who traces the fish and spaghetti origins to "the Deep South in the late 1800s, as Italian immigrants settled in Mississippi and Louisiana. Black Southerners adopted spaghetti and came to consider it, like coleslaw or potato salad, a pleasing side dish to fried fish."
  • "If you look at Black cookbooks from 1900 to 1930, spaghetti is all over the place," he tells Axios.
  • It all suggests that the combo could have similar origins as the New Orleans muffuletta sandwich: late 1800 Deep South Italians.

But why Chicago? "It's a product of the Great Migration," Miller says, noting that the combination traveled to Northern cities with migrants leaving "the Deep South, mostly Mississippi."

What they're saying: "I've been eating spaghetti and fish since I was a kid," Haire's manager Trina Wilson tells Axios, noting that her "Big Mama" (great grandmother) was born in Mississippi and Haire's late founder Finnie Haire hailed from Louisiana.

  • "So spaghetti and fish is how we do it."

Where to get it: Several old school joints still serve the combo.

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