Battle of the Weird-Ass British Potato Chips, Oops! Crisps
Walkers, of Leicester, England, manufactures several oddball flavors of crisps that will be unfamiliar to Americans.
Funny how each nation of snackers prefers its own strange potato chip flavors. In America, where the potato chip was invented in Saratoga Springs in 1853, we long ago grew tired of plain grease and salt, and now our potato chip selection runs to Guacamole, Carolina Barbecue, Hawaiian, and Salt-and-Vinegar.
Who can deny other countries their potato chip weirdnesses? English chip flavors, in particular, seem very strange to us. So, this week we're pitting a couple of English "crisps" against one another. One is supposedly flavored like the flesh of roast chickens, the other with Worcestershire sauce, a condiment whose colonial history is so knotted, that the transformation of the flavor into a chip can only provide further confusion. So, without further delay, put up your dukes, chips!
Next: Cultural context
In one corner of the ring, Worcestershire Sauce chips (left), and in the other corner, Roast Chicken chips (right).
The idea of making chips taste like chicken is an odd one. Is the idea that the chips can somehow replace a chicken dinner? Is the product a low-ball attempt to lure the poor, who can't afford a real chicken dinner, or the lazy, who don't want to get up off the couch and throw a supermarket chicken into the oven, into enjoying the next best thing? Or is the flavor intended to make the chips seem wholesome?
All these conceptions may be in play here, because a text on the back of the package underneath a picture of a combine plowing a field reads: "Everyone loves digging into a Sunday roast and, as a spud, there's no shame in being chosen for a traditional chicken dinner. But secretly, every homegrown spud would rather star in a bag of Walker's Roast Chicken flavor, than share a plate with a Brussel [sic] sprout..." Get the dig about not wanting to associate with (yuck!) vegetables?
The Worcestershire sauce flavored chips are perhaps even stranger. This condiment is obviously a product of British colonialism, because it's bursting with Southeast Asian flavors in a way that makes it stand out in a cuisine that is typically bland and boring. In fact, the sauce itself contains so many ingredients, that we won't reproduce them here, but suffice to say that orange peel and anchovies are important components, making it a species of Malaysian or Philippine fish sauce.
Flavoring salty chips with Worcestershire doesn't sound like a bad idea, but read on friend...
Next: Tasting notes
The Roast Chicken chips are colored an odd reddish brown, intended to replicate the skin of a golden brown roast pullet, but failing in an artificial color sort of way. The chips are mellow at first bite, but then a mild chemical burn sets in, salty and acidic. Really not too bad, but not too good, either. Note that the chips contain no actual chicken product, but rather depend on a mix of flavors common to bouillon cubes.
The Worcestershire Sauce chips are more arresting than the chicken chips. They present a rather pale appearance (one might expect something darker, given the nature of the sauce), and you won't be surprised to learn that the chips contain no actual Worcestershire Sauce. Flavored chips are all about artificialness. Take one bite, and receive a vinegary slap across the face that will wake you up if you're dozing. I hated these chips at first bite, but they gradually began to grow on me, like ringworm. The list of ingredients, as long as your arm, contains no orange peel and no anchovy.
Both chips were pretty bad, and left a chemical aftertaste. The seeming wholesomeness of the chicken chips were an important plus, and so was the quasi-mellowness of the flavor, at least at the start of a potato chip binge. The Worcestershire were probably more interesting overall, but interesting is not the same as good.
The Roast Chicken chips are the winner by a hair.
Want to buy these chips? Myers of Keswick, 634 Hudson Street, 212-691-4194
Check out some of Fork in the Road's other dish battles.
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