Food lovers often talk about “fusion cuisine,” a type of food created when a cook mixes flavors from one place with flavors from another. Salvation South editor Chuck Reece has a few words about a chef who grew up in India but who adamantly and proudly declares himself a Mississippian in this week's episode.

Catfish coconut curry with Missimati rice and summer vegetables at Snackbar in Oxford

Coconut curry with Missimati rice and summer vegetables is one of the featured dishes from Chef Vishwesh Bhatt at Snackbar in Oxford, Mississippi.

Credit: Courtesy of Salvation South


What comes to mind when you think of Southern food? Good fried chicken and a couple of vegetables on the side? Yep. Same as it ever was.

But Southern food evolves. Constantly. Salvation South, the magazine I edit, published a story recently by a talented young food writer, Carrie Honaker, about Southern chefs with roots in Asia or the Middle East. Yes, these folks are adding their homelands’ flavors to Southern cooking. But I loved reading what these chefs said about how they have been shaped BY Southern cooking.

I think my favorite words about that came from a chef named Vishwesh Bhatt, who since 2009 has fed the people of Oxford, Mississippi at Snackbar, a restaurant he opened with his partner John Currence, a highly celebrated chef who has been feeding Oxfordians since 1992.

Mr. Bhatt — or Vish, as his friends call him — spent the first eighteen years of his life in Ahmedabad, the largest city in the Indian state of Gujarat. Then his parents moved to America, and Bhatt wound up in Oxford, where his father was teaching.

Eaters in Oxford love Vish for how he melds the spices and cooking techniques of his native India with traditional Southern foods. One vegetable that is common in both countries is okra, and Vish’s signature dish is okra chaat. Chaat — spelled C-H-DOUBLE-A-T — is a term for Indian savory snacks, quick bites, shareable appetizers. We’re used to okra dredged in cornmeal and fried in bacon grease. Vish’s famous chaat is his version of fried okra, seasoned with an Indian spice blend, then tossed with jalapeños, red onion, tomatoes, peanuts, cilantro, cayenne, cane syrup, and lime juice.

A few years ago, I ate that okra at Snackbar, and it was yummy. When Vish published his first book last summer, “I Am From Here,” I was curious how he would describe his approach to Southern cooking. The very first paragraph blew me away.

He writes, “I want people to see me as I see myself: an immigrant, a son of immigrants, who chose to make the South his home, and in so doing became a Southern chef. I claim the American South, and this is my story.”

I’ve used my time on GPB before to tell you that our culture gets richer every time a new group of immigrants adds flavors to the pot. Chef Vishwesh Bhatt is one of thousands of immigrants who now proudly call themselves Southerners. Their presence enriches us. It makes our food better. And it makes us better.

Come visit us at to read about Vish and his fellow chefs who are Southerners by choice.

Salvation South editor Chuck Reece comments on Southern culture and values in a weekly segment that airs Fridays at 7:45 a.m. during Morning Edition and 4:44 p.m. during All Things Considered on GPB Radio. You can also find them here at and please download and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform as well.