Calabash, Seafood Capital of the World

Calabash, Seafood Capital of the World

Sample Calabash seafood in the town where it got its name

On North Carolina’s southeastern coast is Calabash, the picturesque fishing village that calls itself the "Seafood Capital of the World." This tiny port town shaded by large oaks has become synonymous with a style of preparing seafood that involves corn meal battering and frying.

Ubiquitous hush puppies accompany every meal. They're typically made from cornmeal, flour, eggs and sugar, and may include chopped onion and sweet milk. Dropped into hot fat and fried to a golden brown, they often reach the table before your chair is warm.

Calabash, an Indian word for a crooked-neck gourd, has about one seafood restaurant per 10 residents. Arguments often ensue about who opened the first "fish camp" in Calabash: the Becks or the Colemans, who were actually sisters. In the 30s, both families hosted outdoor oyster roasts to welcome back the fisherman and their daily catches. But, by 1940, both operations had moved indoors and added the now-famous fried seafood to their repertoire. A third sibling got into the act in 1950 by opening up his own version of Calabash cuisine with his wife, Ella.

A frequent diner at Coleman’s during this era was entertainer Jimmy Durante. Lucy Coleman remembers he always jokingly called her Mrs. Calabash. Durante later began closing his shows by saying, "Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are."

The town’s fame increased locally and other restaurants opened to meet the increasing demand. By the 1960s, large crowds from nearby Myrtle Beach were flowing into the small community nightly to get a taste of Calabash. Then, Calabash attracted national attention and restaurants across the Southeast began advertising their Calabash-style seafood.

Pioneering restaurants like Beck’s Restaurant, Coleman’s Original Calabash Seafood Restaurant, and Ella’s of Calabash still serve up the Calabash-style seafood that earned the town its fame, as do other more recent restaurant additions. Wherever you choose to dine, you’ll enjoy a plate-full of North Carolina seafood history.

photo courtesy of Brunswick County Tourism Development Authority

Request your Travel Guide

Download or order FREE guides and maps

Discover Project Project 543

Explore unique spots across North Carolina