“The history of Soul Food reminds us, and the sharing of Soul Food binds us…” Awia Markey
First stop on my Soul Food journey is San Francisco, one of my favourite cities. But there’s no time to visit familiar icons like the MOMA, Fisherman’s Wharf, or shop for Ghirardelli chocolate – on this trip I’m here to eat Soul Food!
After 13 hrs in the air, I step off my United Airlines flight full of purpose. My purple carry-on bag never leaves my sight. It’s my toolbox of essentials: camera gear, laptop, French Press coffee plunger and bag of Grinders pre-ground coffee. My check-in bag is packed with gifts and DIY essentials… and less important stuff like clothes and shoes.
Following me everywhere like an enormous shadow is my black ‘Puff Daddy’ coat. I was warned about cold temps on the West Coast and I really don’t like the cold!
San Francisco greets me with warm sunshine and I peel off my coat, as a friend pulls into the curb at the airport in his black SUV. Although the windows aren’t black, it does look like we’re on a mission. My friend grew up eating home-cooked soul food, so when he eagerly – and generously – offers to drive me to Soul Food diners around Oakland and the Bay area, I smile – ‘Absolutely!’
Next morning we’re driving through Oakland and parts of the ‘hood’. Our first stop is Bootstrapper. I’m told they are ‘one of the few Black-owned soul food diners left’ in the Oakland area. The sign in the window says SOUL FOOD $10, but they are closed today, so we go on our way.
I eat my first-ever meal of Soul Food at our next stop, Brown Sugar Kitchen. Tanya Holland owns this popular and more upscale Soul Food restaurant. I order Fried Chicken and Waffles and eat my first plate of Collard Greens. Collards taste like a delicious peppery spinach. Collards don’t grow in Australia, but I’m an instant convert, so I decide to buy seeds and plant them in my garden when I get back home.
The Waffles arrive and they are wickedly good and wickedly large, but no complaints from me! BSK serves their waffles with a jug of mysteriously delicious sweet syrup. My tastebuds smile, seduced by new flavours. I’ve poured almost all the syrup over my waffles, so I guess I should ask what it is. ‘Apple Cider Syrup’. These three words can hijack anyone’s diet or willpower. I forgot to ask Tanya for her recipe so instead I’ll share a recipe that I found online.
Another new flavour for me is Root Beer! Even in Australia I’ve heard of it but never tasted it. I’m not a fan of sugary carbonated drinks – but it was time to step up and drink the fizzy stuff.
I found it refreshing, with a more subtle flavour than Coke or Pepsi, and I really liked the aftertaste. But even in the name of research, enough sugar is ‘enough already’ so I left the bottle half empty – or half full.
For the next 4 days I ate a lot of soul food in San Francisco. I visited a range of restaurants including a hip bar serving upscale ‘modern’ soul food to hip clientele, ‘old school’ family-run diners, and several iconic soul food establishments. And as people opened their hearts to me, I learned a lot about Soul Food and what it means to the people who cook it and serve it.
In the same way 50 artists might draw the same model in 50 different ways, Soul Food flavours change as each cook enriches a recipe by adding their own touch, their own personality.
Being newly addicted to Waffles I couldn’t help but notice how they changed in style and size as I travelled from the West Coast to the East Coast. It was the same with another Soul Food staple – Chitlins. I ate my first serving of Chitlins on the West Coast, and ate my last mouthful on the East Coast. How did they taste? Find out when I blog from the East Coast, from an iconic Harlem restaurant. My next blog post will be from Oregon.
Meanwhile, here’s a good excuse to cook up some Waffles.
Apple Cider Syrup
1/2 cup brown or white sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, nutmeg
1 cup apple cider
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons butter
Mix the sugar, cornstarch, and cinnamon together in a saucepan. Stir in the apple cider and lemon juice. Cook over medium heat until mixture begins to boil, and boil until the syrup thickens. Remove from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons of butter until melted. Serve warm. Pour over waffles.