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October 7, 2004

I Am The Fat American
Back in the States for just a few days and all sorts of things in my life have already changed. My job is different but was almost much more different, my friends in Chicago have all moved, and the weather has grown mercifully and gloriously autumn-like. Lots of new things in the air, then, as they say.

But you don’t care about that. You want to know how the trip went. It went like this: Everyone in the UK is thin until they hit middle-age, and then they swell just a tad, but not like we do. I am the fat American, and if I thought four-mile hikes over steep Scottish hills to see glorious cliff-side castles was going to make a difference in my shape, then I underestimated the role of the British crisp (see chip, American). Sara suggested we try some kind of strange crisp each day, and I completely usurped her program(me) after she remembered that she doesn’t like potato chips. When we missed days due to sickness, I insisted we make up those days. Soon I simply took the challenge to mean “eat every kind of crisp available.” Except, of course, for prawn-flavored crisps.

So here is what you really want to know when you ask how my trip went; here are some of the weird things I ate.

2004 British Crisp Survey and Findings Report
Crisp: Assorted Vegetable and Parsnip Crisps
Description: Multi-colored assortment of hippy-like dried vegetable discs, including parsnip (aka “neep”).
Verdict: Uninspiring. A satisfying texture is marred by an absense of flavor or, in place of that, salt.

Crisp: Chargrilled Steak
Description: Part of the ubiquitous Walkers brand, whose packaging resembles the American Frito-Lay design. Simply a ridged potato chip applied with powdery flavor or “spice.”
Verdict: Good. Remarkably smokey.

Crisp: Honey Roast Ham
Description: As above, but not ridged.
Verdict: Sara reported: “Somewhat piggish. A bit of sweet porkiness. But [then] I like ham.”

Crisp: Roast Chicken
Description: As above, but of a different brand, I believe.
Verdict: Hard to say. These crisps were eaten on the Aberdeen-to-Kirkwall ferry shortly before departure, so I now either recall them tasting like vomit or, more accurately, I recall vomit tasting like them.

Crisp: Tandoori Sizzler
Description: A rare flavor of Doritos-brand corn chips. Look for the “extreme” purple packaging (purple is in this fall) and beware the “flavor overload.”
Verdict: Excellent. One of very few crisps we had the foresight to bring back to the States with us. Highly recommended.

Crisp: Sea Salt & Vinegar
Description: Thick-cut, hand-fried crisps purchased in Stromness, Orkney, with the assumption that sea salt and vinegar would somehow be more sea-salty or more vinegary on a remote Atlantic island.
Verdict: Good. Though somewhat mild and otherwise par, the experience was enriched by the proximity to the sea in a handsome island city.

Crisp: Mature Cheddar
Description: Some cafe-brand thick-cut potato chip purchased at the Starbucks on Princess Street in Edinburgh.
Verdict: Fine. Note that “mature” means “unremarkable” and “cheddar” means “good.”

Crisp: Tomato & Basil
Description: Ordinary potato chips with applied flavorings.
Verdict: Surprisingly good. These got lugged all over Scotland before I finally tried them just to get rid of their smashed remains, but they were not as boring as I’d assumed they’d be. Recommended.

Crisp: Worcester Sauce
Description: Cafe-brand crisp with applied flavor.
Verdict: Good. Dry, spicy, but not overwhelming.

Crisp: Thai Sweet Chilli
Description: Part of Walkers’ “Sensations” line of high-falutin’ crisps, which were everywhere on our trip.
Verdict: Tyler and Ed of the Canadian pop group Barenaked Ladies described this crisp while touring in Glasgow as tasting like “the floor of a Thai restaurant.” (see “Upside Down” from the “Everywhere for Everyone” tour album recorded in Glasglow, Scotland; available on iTunes) I disagree, though the flavor is little more than a tangle of various poorly blended spices. Skip this one.

Crisp: Cantonese Black Bean and Spring Onion
Description: Part of the Oriental Crackers sub-line of Walkers’ Sensations line of gourmet crisps. The whole texture of these crisps is different: thick, Fritos Scoops-shaped curls of potato with baked-in flavors.
Verdict: Very good. Satisfying spices and exotic, but easily consumed en masse. Recommended.

Crisp: Peking Spare Rib & Five Spice
Description: As above.
Verdict: Fair. Sadly neither as good as the Chargrilled Steak or Black Bean crisps, but you could do much worse.

Crisp: Creamy Chicken Pasanda & Coriander
Description: From the Poppadom Bites sub-line, a sister of the Oriental Crackers assortment.
Verdict: Excellent. I don’t know what exactly a poppadom is, but it appears to be a light and crispy potato cup. Rich, delicious flavor that would do well with a dab of hummus or a dollop of yoghurt sauce inside. I’ll miss these.

Crisp: Spicy Tandoori Masala
Description: As above.
Verdict: Fair. Less tandoori than the fabulous Doritos flavor and not remotely spicy enough to support the name. If you have any other options in the Poppadom Bites line, skip these.

Addendum: I’ve brought back a bag of Slow Roasted Lamb & Mint crisps to enjoy in the future, and will report back when I’ve tried them. Believe me, if I’d found the Greek Kebab or Feta & Herb flavors, I would have tried them. Sara and I both agreed to skip the Tomato Ketchup flavor in favor of more exotic options; we’ve both eaten a potato chip with ketchup on it, anyway. Likewise, we both fear and mistrust Marmite, and so did not eat Marmite Yeast Extract flavors. Those you must try on your own.

If you know where to get British crisps in the US, please let me know.

Noise: The Vines, “Get Free”

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