Hey, what’s the story with the crisps?
Growing up in Australia in the 80s we only had about 5 flavours of crisps. And, of course, we called them chips. Plain, Chicken, Salt & Vinegar, Cheese & Onion, and BBQ. And there were really only 2 brands to choose from – Samboy Chips, and Smith’s Chips.
The packet colours were:
- Dark Blue – Plain
- Green – Chicken
- Pink – Salt & Vinegar
- Yellow – Cheese & Onion
- Orange – BBQ
There were of course a few other poncey varieties of chips with weirdo flavours, but these were the mainstream.
Upon moving to Britain in 2004 my world was tilted slightly by realising that the default options in my new home were as follows:
- Red – Ready Salted (we’d call them Plain, but for some reason everything needs more syllables here)
- Blue – Cheese & Onion
- Pink – Prawn Cocktail
- Green – Salt & Vinegar
It’s really quite weird when you find something as basic & fundamental as crisp colours you’ve grown up with: you’ll intellectually accept that people do things differently, but deep down there’s a visceral feeling that they’ve done it wrong. And then of course there’s the whole unpleasant and divisive business of the fact that some people think Walkers have got it wrong, and Salt & Vinegar should in fact be blue. Low-quality tabloids like to try to frame this as “a debate“, which if true is a fairly sad indictment on the level of public discourse in any given area. Elsewhere it’s even regarded as a conspiracy. If they went to Australia and saw the pink S&V they’d totally lose their shit.
In addition to this there were some other options to be found in the not-quite-poncey-but-not-quite-mainstream area, like Sweet Chilli, Roast Chicken, Flame Grilled Steak, and Roast Ox. The last being so remarkable that I was moved to blog about it 10 years ago.
Following this initial period of disorientation and acclimatisation I didn’t really think about crisps all that much, until 2016 when we embarked on a road trip around Scotland – we stopped off on our way out of the Trossachs, and stumbled on a couple of flavours that really caught my eye. The first, admittedly, because the bags were overlapping to make a childishly rude suggestion of a flavour.
The second, however, was a bit of a game (pardon the pun) changer – Venison and Cranberry crisps. Mind BLOWN.
You can imagine my wonderment – and all that kept going through my head was the Billy Connolly bit about “An ideal way to get rid of that leftover venison”.
Naturally, I bought them. I don’t even specifically remember what they tasted like, but from that point I’d scan the shelves of each new place we went to, eager to see what other rare highlights of Scottish cuisine had been transformed into crisp format. Mackie’s also had Haggis & Cracked Black Pepper, Flamegrilled Aberdeen Angus, Scotch Bonnet Chilli, and Whisky & Haggis flavour. Mostly awful, of course. But it’s a few miles away from frigging Chicken and Cheese & Onion.
Returning to England, I was quite stunned to encounter a packet claiming to be English Barbecue flavoured – stunned, because my experience of English BBQs to date is primarily meat vaguely warmed over disposable BBQs before being dumped on by a load of rain. Why anyone would want to encapsulate that in a crisp packet was something of an enigma to me.
Still, it was enough of a departure from the standard 4 to make me wonder what else was out there. And so forever after whenever I was in a corner shop or supermarket I’ve cast an eye over the crisps to see what the most ludicrous things I could find were, and collected them in a gallery on Facebook – now, replicated here. And my word have there been some rich pickings.
Soon after, friends from around the world started sending me pictures of crisps they’d found, and so a second album was necessary.
It’s not that I really eat them – before this I’d not really been a huge fan of crisps, and now I only really taste them to see if the flavour in any way resembles what’s on the label. Which is probably a discussion for another day.
Probably my favourite crisp flavour I’ve encountered during this whole affair is Paprika flavour – and the best of the ones I’ve tried have ben the Polish ones, such as pictured here (although happily, in my neighbourhood, other brands are available). There’s a certain simplicity about paprika flavoured crisps, and indeed if you look into the ingredients list of most of the more elaborate flavours out there they more often than not include paprika anyway. A hugely popular flavour in Europe, it surprisingly hasn’t really made a huge inroad into the UK market. Pity.
So, that’s where we are then.
I’ll endeavour to keep the galleries up to date with my ongoing findings and submissions.
And yes – I’ll do my best to remain vigilant and protect myself from Gobbledoks.
* note: I did stumble across some very dedicated crisp reviewers at http://www.crispnation.com – not sure how I’d go writing reviews of these things, but it’s interesting to note how little crossover there is in our lists! They’re definitely a lot more serious about it than me. The real McCoy, you might say (crisp humour).