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Reviews Of Some Crisps I Have Eaten Recently
Isn’t it great that we no longer have public beheadings in the UK, as well as having central heated houses and toilet roll and vinyl records and Penicillin? I think so, and I certainly would not like to go back to the many drawbacks of the Before Time, but simultaneously I have noticed progress is a complicated thing: for everything positive it brings it tends to drag a covert downside in it wake. One example of this is crisps. When I was growing up in the 1980s, the choice of crisp in the United Kingdom was quite limited and what was generally viewed as “a normal bag of crisps” was much much smaller than what it is now. These days, every corner shop, supermarket and petrol station is filled with virtually all imaginable flavours and textures and shapes of crisps, and it has become socially acceptable to eat a very big bag of crisps without the help of friends, instructions such as “GRAB BAG” that you now find on crisps giving much more confidence to those who were previously nervous around crisps and afraid to act assertively in response to their truest desires. You might think this could all only be a positive thing for a lifelong crisp addict like me yet conversely, several years into this bold new crisp era, I often find myself yearning for a simpler time, lamenting the tyranny of choice now available on the crisp market, and realising that the life of crisp luxury I live has acted as a nourishing enabler to some greedy and entitled sides to my personality that I didn’t even know were there back when I was very content with one small packet of Salt’n’Vinegar French Fries per day (and even more content if they mistakenly contained one of those weird hard ones that hadn’t cooked properly, which, though people might find it hard to believe now, was - from the mid 80s to the mid 90s - the most exciting thing that could happen to a young person, along with losing your virginity and hearing a Stooges album for the first time).
WALKERS MAX STRONG JALAPENO AND CHEESE and M&S JALAPENO NACHO RIDGE CUT
Like electric hand dryers, crisps are something we as a formerly low maintenance nation have very quickly, since a little after the turn of the last Millennium, come to expect excessively high performances from. Imagine walking into your local Texaco and demanding a jalapeño flavour crisp in 1996? You’d be instantly tarred and tagged as the most intolerable diva. But now they appear on what seems like every other shelf. I fairly regularly eat the cheesy Walkers japaleno ones, but always with a slight feeling of regret, partly because they leave my mouth resembling a smaller version of the giant chemical fire my ex-landlord gleefully started on his land in 2018 but mostly because each time I eat them, I am reminded of their brethren Walkers Max Strong Chilli And Lime, discontinued a few years ago in the most insane and irrational cancellation decision since HBO decided to axe Deadwood in 2006 after only three seasons. A more wholesome jalapeño option are the M&S Nacho Ridge Cuts: an impressive curveball from M&S, who generally are not an auspicious outlet when it comes to crisp innovation (if you ever had the misfortune of trying their hand-cooked Winter Berries & Sparkling Prosecco you’ll know what I mean). There are no M&S stores near my house so I don’t eat these often but when I do I always feel rewarded yet also strangely reminded of the first time I ate Weetabix.
SALT AND VINEGAR SLABS
These came from the extremely fancy service station near Gloucester on the M5. For me, they’re a little like the first three solo albums by Nico from The Velvet Underground: I know they’re works of refined genius but I wouldn’t want to devote a whole day exclusively to consuming them. The sweet red chilli flavour ones are very nice too but the first time I ate a packet of salt and vinegar flavour ones I felt like I was experiencing an actual revolution in my mouth. An hour later, by the time I’d finished a third packet, I had modified this opinion, questioning the amount of oil involved and whether what I’d eaten were in fact just some cold potato wedges in a fancy blouse. When I revisited Gloucester Services earlier this month and ate them for the first time in over a year I was pleased to find them just as delicious as when I had debuted them. I think the key here is restraint, which works out well for me since Gloucester is over three hours from where I currently live and I haven’t seen them sold anywhere else.
BOBBY’S PICKLED ONION SPIRALS AND PICKLED ONION SPACE RAIDERS
The continuing relative lack of pickled onion crisps on the market in our apparent current golden crisp era, coupled with the confinement of pickled onion flavour to the working class arthouse crisp sector, is to me the greatest and darkest of modern crisp mysteries. These two remain the finest examples of this marginalised genre, although both leave a strong aftertaste and - in my case, at least, when I ate an entire multipack of the Space Raiders version on a 25 minute walk back from Morrisons to my house in the unforgettable autumn of 2017 - sometimes even a fully fledged hangover. Whatever the case, there is definitely a place in the universe for crisps like this, especially for those of us who tire of handcooked crisps and instead yearn for crisps cooked by the assured talons of robot hawks. It remains one of my great ambitions to visit the legendary Space Raiders Farm, which I am confident does very much exist because I once saw a sign above some Space Raiders in a shop near my house which announced that they were ‘FRESH FROM OUR FARMS’.
HERR’S CAROLINA REAPER
I bought these in a moment of desperation from a Budgens at a petrol station on the Devon-Cornwall border towards the end of a brutally long night-time drive. On normal occasions I tend to avoid shopping at Budgens, a truly remarkable supermarket if only in the sense that its USP seems to be that it is somehow nondescript, crap and expensive all at the same time. But here was hope. Perhaps, by stocking a brand and flavour of crisps I was unfamiliar with, the establishment was stepping up its game, with a bit of multicultural swagger? Alas I was being my usual optimistic, frequently disappointed self. Its pet food and drinks sections were as pedestrian as ever and, after downing just two Carolina Reapers, I found myself frantically searching the car for an old bottle with the dregs of any liquid that would serve as temporary mouthwash. Looking at the packet now, a day later, I am still unsure of precisely what flavour its former contents were, other than it features a photo of an apparently highly distressed, fire-breathing chilli and makes a bold claim of “REAL CHEESE”. As a person with a fairly high spice tolerance, I can honestly say they are the hottest crisp I have ever eaten: 3% of the bag was all I could manage. I was initially about to empty the remainder onto the part of the lawn where I normally feed the birds but then I became worried that a Starling would eat one and spontaneously combust. In the end, I chose the compost heap instead. I assumed that would be the end of it, enabling me to put the whole regrettable saga firmly behind me, but when I got up in the early hours to empty my bladder, I looked out of the bathroom window and noticed a red thermonuclear glow pulsating from the compost and, when I listened closely, an accompanying sound, sort of half-gabbling, half-hissing. I went outside to investigate further and noticed that some rotten shallots and potatoes I’d thrown in there a week ago were walking around frantically in circles on what looked like strange angry legs. In some ways, the legs weren’t all that leglike, especially as the feet attached to them were more like one big angry toenail, although they did have what I suppose you could call knees, if you were stretching your definition of what a knee could strive to be if it was in an especially livid mood. They were still at it, albeit more sedately, this morning when I threw out the skin of the avocado I had for breakfast. I lobbed a pile of rotting leaves on them then gave them the whole lot a good soaking with the watering can and I’m hoping everything will have calmed down by tonight.