Why you should care
Because soy sauce and tortilla chips are an orgasmic combination.
Before I head to the park, the beach or on a long car ride, a snack stop at the local bodega is a must. My eyes rapidly scan the shelves for that clear plastic bag with cartoonish blue writing: Have’a Corn Chips. No need for salsa or guac — these crispy, tangy triangles of perfection have a unique flavor not to be messed with. Most every Californian I know considers devouring an entire bag in one sitting as perfectly acceptable.
How can plain tortilla chips be so mouthwatering? The not-so-secret ingredient, written plainly on the bag, is soy sauce (it also adds an appealing toasted brown hue to the chips). A flavor that belongs on sushi might sound gross on a chip, but a few handfuls in, you’ll realize all rules are out the window. The rest of the ingredients are few: soybean oil, lime and salt. So not the healthiest of snacks, but you know exactly what you’re eating.
Devout Have’a eaters tend to convert those who’ve never had the pleasure.
“The hint of umami is subtle, but it registers on our palate and then in our brain,” says Jennifer Kaplan, who teaches writing and food systems at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa. The California native has eaten Have’a Chips for years and believes that their unique taste has made them a cult classic. “It has a certain taste profile which speaks to its ‘taste tribes,’” she says, referring to groups of people who enjoy similar flavors and cuisine.
But their origin? That’s a mystery. Have’as were first sold at The Have’a Stand (now just The Stand) in Laguna Beach in the early ’70s by creators Larry and Jan Dunn — who are famously elusive, as is every person who’s worked there. In 2005, Edward Brancard, who bought The Stand in the ’90s told OC Weekly that Have’a is “a really straightforward, privately owned family business that just wants to make a living and doesn’t want to be publicized in the process.” When I called the number written on the back of the bag, the operator who took my number told me that a representative would call back with information. That has yet to happen. And when I contacted Alizabeth “Alisa” Arciniaga, who purchased The Stand from Brancard (after working there in high school), she responded to my email with “Sorry. No comment on Have’a Chips.”
But shunning the media seems to have had no effect on the chips’ popularity. Kaplan thinks it sparked a brand loyalty in some consumers. “It’s very anti-corporate, like an indie product,” she says. Their lack of publicity suggests that the brand isn’t interested in growing, but nearly every bodega, produce stand and locally owned market in California I’ve been to (absolutely no big box stores) sells them.
Devout Have’a eaters (like myself and Kaplan) tend to convert those who’ve never had the pleasure. Kaplan says her kids recently tried them for the first time and claimed not to like them. By the end of the night, two bags were gone.
We may never know how the perfect tortilla chip was created, but it won’t stop me from crunching away. I’m not saying Have’a Chips are better than sex … but they’re a pretty close second.