There ain’t no soul in the bay

October 12, 2017 — by Austin Wang

Columnist argues that his soul food cravings cannot be met in Silicon Valley.

No matter how much pho, tacos and In-N-Out Burgers I eat, my craving for greasy diners and fried chicken is something that Silicon Valley just can’t satisfy. Although its food scene offers everything from authentic taco trucks to pretentious high-end sushi, Silicon Valley lacks one thing: soul food.

My debate tournament trips to the American Midwest and South have opened my eyes to the patriotic glory of fried okra, chicken-fried steak and cheesy grits.

There is a dearth of quality southern food, or any southern food really, across Silicon Valley. And no, as good as KFC and Popeyes are, they aren’t the authentic Southern food that I could find in states like Arizona and Kentucky.

California as a whole lacks a true American classic and one of my favorite restaurants: Waffle House. Every time I travel to another U.S. state, I find myself enjoying a hearty pre-tournament breakfast of chocolate chip waffles with “Smothered, Covered and Topped Hashbrowns” (hashbrowns with cheese, chili and sauteed onions) at Waffle House.

Best of all, the huge portions at Waffle House are also far cheaper than the pretentious kinds of breakfast options we have in Saratoga (I’m looking at you, Bell Tower). Take, for example, Waffle House’s All-Star Special: two eggs; two buttered slices of toast; four strips of bacon, ham or sausage; hash browns; and a waffle bigger than my face; this 945-calorie monstrosity only sets you back $6-$7.50. Meanwhile, restaurants around here charge $10 for a mediocre omelette that you could probably make at home.

Waffle House is as close as a restaurant may ever be to the physical embodiment of the “American Dream.” Yet to get the full American experience, one has to go deeper, deeper south.

When I went to Kentucky the week before AP testing last year, I was able to drown out my stress with hot, delicious grease. Before long, I learned that Kentucky fried chicken is far better as a noun than it is as a proper noun.

Eating chicken-fried chicken — literally an enormous chunk of fried chicken smothered in white gravy — with mac-and-cheese, green beans and cornbread at Cracker Barrel made me feel like strapping on cowboy boots, wrapping myself in an American Flag and yodeling the national anthem on horseback. That’s what southern food is to me — a connection to my inner patriotic, red-blooded American.

And don’t even get me started on chicken and waffles. Crispy fried hot chicken with maple syrup over fluffy, sugary waffles is the closest thing to heaven I have ever experienced on Earth. After completing a plate of chicken waffles from Joella’s Hot Chicken in Kentucky, pure grease, syrup and euphoria ran through my veins. The sheer dopamine levels I experienced there are simply unreachable with any food I have found in the Bay Area.

While I may not move to rural America or a Republican stronghold anytime soon, I will still hold Waffle House, gravy and fried chicken deep within my heart, literally and figuratively, for years to come.

I will continue praying that Waffle House comes to California, and that I go to a college with an abundance of nearby Waffle Houses.

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