Berliner's Night Out

It was refreshing to travel around Germany and not encounter a single familiar chip product or brand. Do Germans not eat a lot of chips? Frito-Lay has yet to dig its cunning, wicked claws into the hearts of this resilient nation. Of those I found, the most common flavoring was not "original," "salted," or "classic" (as Frito-Lay itself has impudently coined it) but rather, oddly, Paprika! Paprika, the ever subtle pepper flavoring is put to appropriate use here: It provides the chip with a general dusting, at once mild and definitive. It creeps up on you - the taste pleasantly lingering in your mouth for a bit after its gone, as you crave more - in a vague, BBQ kind of way. I tried many different brands of these paprika chips, but the odd German branding - or precisely its charming lack thereof - makes me unsure whether Sun Snacks is the brand name at all, or just a clue to the oil in which they were cooked (Sunflower Oil!) Regardless, these chips were exceptionally good and charming in their modesty. The German to English free translation was no help: "Crisp kartoffelchips with pepper wurzung." I'm confused!

The Contest

This winter Walkers Crisps unleashed a gimmick-laden campaign across the United Kingdom where several common folk worked with the company to develop new chip flavors that ultimately the public would vote on, the winning flavor joining the main Walkers “range.” A pun drunk copy permeates the whole affair, with a broad, borderline offensive “international” influence which attempts to appeal to the UK’s many classes and races. While I could spend my time here talking about the disgusting marketing campaign, I’ll digress as Chipweb is, and should be, first about the chips. That said, I was genuinely happy to have a bunch of strange new flavors to try, and admit I did quickly fall prey to the whole “collect ‘em all" device. I had to try them all!!! Ingeniously, it seems that Walkers doesn’t provide every flavor to any one store; you thus have to extend your quest, in another odious but effective ploy. Regardless, the flavorings mostly track with the cartoon-like campaign. I’ll talk specifics below, but the old problem of completely ignoring the potato was common. Furthermore, a chip that has such a singularly strong flavor does not beg to be consumed in large quantities: Even if it’s good, it’s ultimately too weird to eat a lot of. Here they are, in the order in which they were consumed:

Cajun Squirrel

I won’t even give this exhibitionist, inappropriately named chip the satisfaction of exclaiming over its name. The flavor is the most mundane of the bunch, a vaguely Louisiana, vaguely BBQ tang that while not bad, is nothing we haven’t had a million times before.

Onion Bhaji

My favorite of the bunch. The curry flavoring complements the potato well, while in general it’s a decent approximation of the ubiquitous mid-level curry available throughout the UK. After a beat, a mild onion flavor hits, adding a third complementary flavor to the chip.

Fish & Chips

Imagine the grossest, slimiest, indistinguishable, grey pile of limp fish and chips splayed on a plate in front of you, fluorescent lights buzzing overhead, in some depressing landlocked town in the middle of England. That is what these monstrosities taste like. If that’s what they were going for, they have succeeded nicely. Stay away!

Crispy Duck & Hoisin

Replicating a meat in a chip is always a tricky and curious business. Though “vegetarian friendly” it makes one think too much of the machines that replicate living creatures, or once living, in a bleak Dickian fantasy. These chips are not a success; the taste is odd enough to eat a few, but ultimately the fake duck flavor and the tangy hoisin sauce are hollow. Once the novelty wears thin, nothing remains.

Builder’s Breakfast

These took a little while, and again, one cannot help but think of the machines. These proclaim utility in that they claim to be perfect for those on the go in the morning who haven’t had time for their big disgusting English breakfast. They pack in eggs, bacon, tomato, beans, mushrooms, blood pudding, toast, rashers, etc. Admittedly impressive in that the chip does succeed in providing these flavors, triggered in succession rather than simultaneously. The egg flavor though gradually becomes sulfuric, and when you get that idea in your head, the chips become vile, tasting literally like a big bag of farts!

Chilli & Chocolate

Apparently the combination of chilli & chocolate has become increasingly popular in the UK. Being of “Aztec origin” is novel there, where South and Central American flavors are largely unknown, and usually done poorly when at all. These chips are interesting, and while I can’t call them good, they aren’t offensive. Combining a healthy heat and the richness rather than the sweetness of chocolate, it’s easy to eat a whole bag trying to decipher the flavor. They retain a certain mystery, perhaps one of the hardest qualities to achieve in a chip. Maybe, in fact, I can call them good.

What about Blighty?

If Europe is a whole different world of chips, then the UK is its uhhhhh Lisa Bonet. Lisa Bonet ate no basil!! Anyway, I got these chips, apparently called "Real" at a - ugh - Starbuxxx in Cardiff, Wales. They do both what I like and dislike about new, let's call them, to coin a gross phrase "conscious chips." Or excuse me, in this case CRISPS. These conscious crisps take the modern packaging too far into saccharine cuteness. The translucent bag is awesome and tasteful, but the cutesy copy on the front makes it obnoxious. The ingredients are all natural, and their love of the chip seems genuine, but I think they fail where a bit of humility and subtlety would have suited better. Tracking with the hit-you-over-the-head-ness are the chips themselves. The mature cheddar and spring onion flavoring is far too dense, and honestly I could only eat a handful before being overwhelmed with the intense flavor. They nail the hand-cooked kettle crunch, but the flavoring is too broad, too obtuse. I appreciate the sincerity but nothing of its execution.

Date with Ikea

It’s been way too long since the last chipweb update! Since November, I have visited the vast, confusing, wonderful, horrible and thrilling world of European chipdom, and now plan on sharing what I found. I’ll start with the Swedes, and the lovable LantChips, which I did not buy in Sweden, but rather and rather conveniently in an Ikea.

All nuance aside, most decent potato chips taste at least fleetingly similar; these LantChips taste more like potatoes than any others I’ve had. The first bite triggers one of those moments in eating, rare and always unforgettable, of “oh, this is what this is supposed to taste like,” like fresh from the farm milk or the perfect Florida orange. LantChips taste like potato chips! Like a chipped potato. Unfortunately, I'm writing of the taste from memory, so gone are any adequate words I could use to describe these "Scandinavian style" chips. They were brittle, with a deep crunch, and not too salty. They simply were unique, perhaps due to the specific breed of potato used. They were “dirty” – blemishes and possibly some skins left unpeeled – they taste of the earth and of dirt. The back of the bag contains a few paragraphs about the cooking process, written with an obvious pride and understanding. I tried salted and sour cream & onion, the latter containing chips with an almost impossibly subtle dusting of flavor. A perfect accompaniment to a sandwich lunch, they are certainly exceptional, and blow out of the water most chips in this country. As their website proclaims: “The English translation is under construction.”