Every day I’m faced with decisions about chips. Isn't everyone? Haven't you ever awakened in the morning to discover that you've been shoveling them in while asleep?
Today for lunch, I should have a bowl of Trader Joe’s Ginger Almond & Cashew Granola Cereal with sliced banana. If I eat a sandwich it'll mean more chips. I have a blog called pizzacentric and I'm supposed to watch my cholesterol. Chips are a bigger threat than pizza: they seep through the cracks everywhere.
A few weeks ago, I drove from Delaware to Brooklyn with a stomach ache the whole way — possibly caused by onion rings I'd had for lunch. Arrived home, hit the kaibo, drank some Pepto. Felt better but remained uneasy, so I had a light dinner of granola and blueberries. Still hungry, I eyed a caramel-filled chocolate bar in the fridge door but I steered clear because chocolate — high in acid — could upset my stomach. I watched some tv and forgot about my hunger until a bit later — during a commercial break — I wandered back to the fridge and noticed a pint of restaurant salsa with drip stains along the sides. It was leftover from our friend John’s meal at Lobo, a nearby Mexican place, and I needed to tried it. It was SO SPICY, but into it I dipped chip after chip after chip -- forgetting my upset stomach.
Salty is my weak spot.
What's your "side dish" if your sandwich shop of choice doesn't offer fries? Chips. You're hungry but you have only 25 cents in your pocket? Chips. What will you serve your guests (along with beer) during a football game? Chips.
Chips, they beckon in myriad ways: potato taro beet hummus soy kale fried baked low-fat kettle popped reconstituted puffed triangular rectangular corn chips bean chips pita chips blue chips orange chips yellow and white chips flat curvy spicy salt 'n' pepper salt & vinegar less-salt light-salt no-salt jalapeño Thai yogurt mustard crab rib bbq sour cream & onion loaded baked potato ridged thick thin safflower canola olive avocado or peanut oil lard. They are cheap, easy to find, and every day manage to infiltrate my defenses and make me want them. What is a canola anyway?
I look at fat on the label. Saturated fat. The lower the better. But what about natural, that counts too. Chips with chemically reengineered frying fat cannot be better than peanut oil, can they?
Chips lure me in like a Crossroads demon: the old greasy standards (Utz, Wise, Lay's); spinoffs from the Frito-Lay-esque mega-corps (Kettle Cooked, Cape Cod, New York Deli Chips); and higher priced gourmet varieties made of beets and parsnips and cassava, olive oil, and multi-culti flavor profiles. Anyone for some baked lentil pappadam chips? How about "dill pickle flavor" or "Zapp's Spicy Cajun Crawtaters."
I read in David Chang's "Lucky Peach" magazine one writer's idea of "THE BEST POTATO CHIPS IN THE WORLD." They're thin sliced and slow cooked in lard. What makes them so good, it says, is that prior to cooking they are not sprayed (as most are) to remove starch, and this results in a crisper slow-cooked chip with perceived (but not true) thickness. The accompanying recipe, "Potato Chips & Oriental Dip," instructs the following: "1 seasoning packet from your favorite brand of instant ramen, 1 12-oz. container of sour cream, 1 16-oz bag of THE BEST POTATO CHIPS IN THE WORLD. Mix ramen seasoning powder into sour cream. Stir to combine. Let the mixture meld together for 20 minutes. Use chips to scoop ramen dip."
I don't think I'm an addict. I don't crave chips except when I'm hungry or if they’re placed in front of me. But I do buy them in excess. The mind-eye connection of observing a delectable item on a shelf causes me to buy chips I don’t need. The packaging and bag copy direct my emotions to a choice. Some — like Lay's — are thin, crispy, 20% greasy, and chewable by top teeth and tongue alone — it's cool.
The iconic Lay's bag bombards my brain with salt, oil, and crunch. I taste them even before my first bite. Lay’s-type chips harken memories of childhood picnics. They complement foods like hamburgers and hotdogs, sandwiches on white or wheat, grilled cheese, BLTs, tomato soup.
Half a notch up are thicker dip-worthy varieties of the same brands, including Ruffles (superior to Wavy Lay's), "Kettle Cooked," and Herr's (with ridges). These chips deliver 5% less grease and of course, a good 30% added crunch. When I visit my wife's family in Iowa, I eat Old Dutch "Rip-L" chips with tub after tub of Anderson Erickson's unparalleled garlic dip.
Next come "healthier" variations on the above. Non ho capito "reduced fat." Claims of better or lesser oil, such as (the already debunked) Olestra chips, scare me like saccharine, aspartame, sucralose, stevia, etcetera. Don't be fooled. Remember, a teaspoon of sugar has 16 calories. It's okay, have some.
Next up are the post-Cold War premium brands that lure me in with catchy flavors. Kettle Brand Chips and Terra Chips from back in the day; Route 11, McClure's, and the trendy Pop Chips of the 2010s, plus many others that seem to show up weekly. I sometimes stare for an extra long time before deciding. In 1994 I was addicted to Kettle Brand Honey Mustard potato chips.
Then there are the non-potato potato chips. Are fried beets healthier than fried potatoes? Do blue potatoes deliver more vitamins than golden ones? Parsnips, lentils, and azuki beans: are some of these attractive to me because they'll look good in a bowl on the table? I thought Yukon Golds were for mashing.
Then, Pringles. A scientific breakthrough. I used to eat them a ton. Potatoes taken apart, mixed with stuff, and formed into identical half-duckbill-shaped chips, then stacked into a tube. They didn't save the world but they did make chip-eating more fun. Now, the stores tuck them into a corner, hide them in plain site, or present them on out-of-reach: we're over Pringles.
I think Pringles are big in Europe. They're sold on trains. I have friends who claim they're popular in Argentina. Façonable in Japan? Probably. But Pringles owner Procter & Gamble didn't seem to care. Or at least they didn't want them anymore. In Spring 2011, P&G sold the brand to Diamond Foods — packager of nuts and owner of Kettle Brand Chips. Americans: don't forget Pringles — even if they are barely of potato (people in Britain now save money thanks to this little detail — read more here).
Why did I quit Pringles? I recall that I never could finish a whole tube but could polish a comparably-sized bag of competitor chips. At the time, I thought they were too salty and too uniform in flavor. But no. I now believe it is the uniformity of the Pringle's shape that wears me down. Maybe it's an American thing — this need for diversity in chips. Every Ruffle tastes the same, but Ruffles don't feel the same as each other — and that's what makes them fun to eat. [I can extend the analogy a bit further. Preference for Pringles : consumer taste within a smaller gene pool :: preference for non-Pringles : consumer taste within a diverse land like the U.S.A.]
Finally, there are the Not Yet Through The Crack Chips. On May 3rd, when Adam Kuban -- founder of my favorite pizza blog slice.seriouseats.com — tweeted about some random Asian chips, he wrote, "Somebody please take these away from me. They're addictively delicious! And I have no idea what they are" (Click here to see them.) I looked for them and couldn't find them.
I’ve no doubt that our future will involve more and more types of chips previously thought unimaginable. For instance, prosciutto chips: paper thin, salty, and crispy with a single crack of pepper perfectly centered on each chip. They garnish plates in fancy restaurants, why not sell them by the bag for $12.99/oz?
Yesterday, I waited too long for lunch. As I rode the subway home at around 3, I contemplated what to have: granola or sandwich. Sandwich, I decided. I could make one at home with food already purchased. But I first wandered into the "health food store" to find some chips, and discovered a new brand: "Michael Season's Feel Good SnackingTM Natural Gourmet Lightly Salted Thin and Crispy Traditional Style Reduced Fat Potato Chips." Great mouthful, but it was the backside copy that got me: "Our premium potato chips are all-natural and deliciously different. They're thin & crispy like the chips you grew up with — but without that greasy feeling.”
And it was true: Michael Season’s took me back to that magical picnic of youth — but with about 35% less grease. Thank you, Mr. Season! Or shouldn't I?