If there’s one dish that could serve as the definition of sweet and savory, fried chicken and waffles could easily be the leading candidate. Still, for some reason, it has been widely assumed that the origin of fried chicken and waffles began in the South, but it’s a recipe seemingly absent from many southern cookbooks.
In fact, even NPR’s The Salt mistakenly assumed the origin behind this harmonious marriage of salty and sweet was based in the South, only to be berated by readers upset by the falsified claims.
To set the record straight, fried chicken and waffles isn’t a product of southern hospitality, but rather a legendary combination that came into existence on the East Coast some 90 years ago.
Fried chicken and waffles first appeared on a menu in the 1930s, in Harlem N.Y., at Well’s Supper Club, a place popularized for serving members of the Rat Pack and other notable musical influencers of the time. However, Well’s shut down in 1982.
Ironically enough, another Harlem native would bring a similar recipe to California in 1975.
Herb Hudson, the founder of Roscoe’s House Of Chicken and Waffles, became the West Coast trendsetter after he brought the addictively delicious recipe to Los Angeles, where it has unquestionably become embedded into popular culture.
Similar to Well’s, Hudson’s connections in Motown and Hollywood helped his rise to culinary fame, as Roscoe’s became a favorite eatery among celebrities and performers and still is to this day.
Still, for decades, the exact origin of this soulful dish has proved elusive, and become highly misrepresented as a cuisine with a geographically incorrect lineage. After some initial backlash from readers — specifically, readers from the South claiming they never had chicken and waffles — NPR was forced to investigate further.
“I grew up in the South. The first time I heard of fried chicken and waffles was during a summer working in LA … definitely an LA thing and not southern thing,” NPR quoted one reader’s comment.
In 2013, John Edge, the director of The Southern Foodways Alliance, spoke to NPR. Edge explained that while fried chicken is a very traditional Southern dish, waffles became used in substitution for bread around the country.
“It’s a dish most popular among expatriate, African-American Southerners,” he told NPR. “A dish most popular among Southerners now living in urban areas, whether that be the urban South or the urban West, in the case of Los Angeles, or the urban North, in the case of New York.”
Throughout the years Roscoe’s has become a household name, due to its appearances in films, music and television. With several locations in Southern California, fried chicken and waffles has become accessible to everyone, not only locally in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, but worldwide.
However, even though the fried chicken and waffles trend was essentially reborn in Los Angeles, it seems the historic origin behind one of Los Angeles’ most well-known edible trends has been lost in translation.
Perhaps it could be theorized that this delicious combination became so popular, that the truth about its origin has become superseded by an assumed portion of false history — just because it’s just so damn good.
Regardless of the future, one thing is set in stone: the crispiness of a succulent, golden brown, fried chicken breast, mixed with the sugary sweetness of syrup, added to a fork full of fluffy waffle dripping with butter is more than just a meal — it has become a cultural icon — in Los Angeles and abroad.
Thank you, Mr. Hudson. When you left Harlem, we’re really glad you chose the Golden State.