Boiled Peanuts: Global Connections in Southern Cuisine
Abi Lua WPAMC ’22
A couple weeks prior to our Southern Trip, our professors asked our class what cultural heritage sites we would want to see during our trip. In light of my research interests, I requested to visit sites that reflected connections between the South and global material culture. Whenever I would think about global material culture and the U.S., I most often think of port cities in the Northeast or California. As such, I wondered if there were any sites in the South that could speak to this theme as well.
To my surprise, I found this thematic connection—specifically a connection to my own Filipino culture—not through a cultural heritage site but through the food we ate. Most immediately, I saw this connection in the amount of fresh seafood we ate (Figure 1). From eating oysters, clams, and mussels, to flounder, scallops, and shrimp, our many seafood dinners accommodated my love for seafood, a love that cultivated with the many mussel soups, fried fish, and steamed crab (my favorite!) that my mother prepared for dinners growing up (Figure 2). Another familiar food I encountered on trip was fried pork rinds, which we call chicharon in Filipino (Figure 3).
However, what caught my attention the most was a small snack we were served during our first dinner in South Carolina. As we pored over the many seafood combination platters on our menus, the waitress placed several baskets of boiled peanuts at the center of our table (Figure 4).
While our classmates who were from the South were reassuring the rest of us that boiled peanuts are actually quite delicious, I sat in deep culture shock: what I thought was a uniquely Filipino snack was actually also a common snack in the Southern part of the U.S.! Called nilagang mani in Filipino (literally, boiled peanuts), boiled peanuts are commonly sold as street food in the Philippines. In my childhood, this snack was a frequent alternative to popcorn as I would consume several bowls of boiled peanuts while watching cartoons (Figure 5).
In a region that had often felt the farthest from me both geographically and culturally, I was surprised yet warmed to find belonging and connection.
 Jasmine Briones, “Boiled Peanuts (Nilagang Mani),” Sweet Simple Vegan (blog), February 7, 2022, https://sweetsimplevegan.com/boiled-peanuts-nilagang-mani/; Elizabeth Q, “Boiled Peanuts – Filipino Nilagang Mani – Instant Pot + Stove-Top,” Asian In America, October 11, 2019, https://www.asianinamericamag.com/boiled-peanuts-filipino-nilagang-mani-instant-pot-stove-top/. Several cooking blogs share about the presence of this snack in both Filipino and Southern U.S. food culture.