Walkers Squares- Salt & Vinegar

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First of all, what’s with junk food labeling here in the UK? The labels seem to include either extremely specific and uninspired descriptions (i.e. “unmistakably cheesy”) or pictures that suggest an entirely different density.  Squares fall into the latter category.  I thought these would be thicker, like little salt & vinegar crackers, which seemed kind of interesting.  I thought maybe crackers would retain even more savory zing crystals than chips.  Alas, these are pretty much chips squared, only in terms of the shape, not (salt + vinegar) 2

squares

I will grant that they don’t seem as oily as potato chips, although oiliness levels do vary from chip to chip, so I’m not sure if this gives Squares an advantage compared to salt & vinegar chips generally.  The lightness would be good if you just want a little bit of salt & vinegar.  I suspect, however, that most people would rather just go full throttle with their S&V crisps.

According to a label on the back, “snacks with angles is where it’s at.”  Shouldn’t it say “snacks with angles are where it’s at?”  Am I being too particular?  The label goes on to note that “squares are unashamedly different.”  Walkers is all about encouraging chip shape acceptance.  The label also claims that these are the only crisps that let you “build little crisp houses, before munching and crunching.”  I suppose that’s true, only if you’re the Zaha Hadid of the junk food world.  The rest of us should stick to building houses with saltines.

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Skips

Skips

As you can see from the package, Skips are a “Tingly Prawn Cocktail.”  So yeah, this is a junk food designed not only to taste like shrimp, but shrimp cocktail specifically.  When you open the package you think “what’s that smell? tomato..shrimp?” in that order.  That’s also what it’s like to eat them.  Actually, maybe the flavor sensation is more like “tomato? or is that vinegar? whoa, shrimp!”  They are really “tingly” when they first hit your tongue- like a tingly, tangy sensation.  It tastes like…cocktail sauce!  That’s some fine junk food engineering.  After the shrimp cocktail flavor fades, you’re left with a pleasant, light, starchy flavor, with a bit of tang, but not as much tingle.  When I finished the bag (because I promptly finished the bag) I hit some pockets of heavily flavor-dusted crumbs.  These little Skips remnants were especially tangy and delightful.

While I obviously enjoyed Skips, I couldn’t help but wonder “when would I crave Skips?”  Maybe I’d crave Skips if I really wanted shrimp cocktail, but found myself too far inland to view seafood without suspicion.  Although this exact scenario- craving shrimp cocktail in Nebraska- has not happened, it is within the realm of possibility.  My sister and I did eat one pound of peel and shrimp EACH in Boston once.  Recalling this memory made me think “is one pound of peel and eat shrimp a lot? Or did it just seem like a lot because I was 10?  I started to google “one pound of shrimp,” and the autofill came up with “one pound fish” and the first hit was this youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_miGclPFGs

This prompted more questions, like “is this England’s version of Chocolate Rain?”  Apparently, this guy worked at a fish market and made up a song and somebody thought to produce a dance version and now it has almost 30 million views.  This song, which advertises cheap fish to ladies, went up to number 1 on the UK Asian chart and number 4 on the UK dance chart.  Apparently “One Pound Fish guy” was deported (or wasn’t? Internet newz seems conflicted here), but he was indicted in Pakistan for failing to pay a loan he was given several years earlier.  I can’t find anything about his current situation…but now I need to know!  The Internet has failed me.  I’m so sad I could binge eat some shrimp cocktail-flavored junk food.

p.s. I was so busy eating the Skips that I totally forgot to take a picture of them.  They look like little discs with slightly upturned edges.  Because you were dying to know.

American cheese, cheese food, and queso.

Like any good ‘Murkhan, I’ve been thinking about Super Bowl snacks, even though I won’t have a party, and I’ll probably be asleep for most of it.  These facts are inconsequential.  As long as I have Super Bowl snacks, I can vicariously participate in the festivities.  I’ve been contemplating a new snack invention, which would involve white queso dip.  But, I’m in England, and I correctly anticipated that white queso dip is not readily available here.  Actually, it’s not so much the dip- I bet there are attempts at white queso here- it’s the American cheese for the dip.

I started looking for places to buy American cheese in London, and people were only talking about the yellow cheese slices used for hamburgers, etc.  I’m not talking about cheese food slices in cellophane.  I’m talking about this:

https://i0.wp.com/www.landolakes.com/assets/images/women_ofthe_grill/am_cheese.png

(From landolakes.com)

This type of cheese is THE BEST for making the white queso dip served in restaurants in the U.S., including, I suspect, my beloved District Taco (I miss you, Boo).  But where can I find this colonial cheese in England?  I think I might have to improvise.  I’m going to try a combination of Dutch Gouda and Cheddar cheese.  How did I come up with this combination?  I got really hungry reading about American cheese, which led to this:

Gouda

Nom Nom Dutch Gouda.  I’ll work on my recipe tomorrow, and I’ll keep you all posted on my results!

p.s. Here’s a good article on misconceptions about American cheese: http://thecookinggeek.com/american-cheese/

Ridge Cut McCoys- Mexican Chilli

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Let’s get something straight, England.  Chili is either a bean-based dish or it is a type of pepper.  Chilli, on the other hand, is a member of the group TLC, whose music got me through 1992.  Are we clear now?  Good.  Now I can move past this grievous error and objectively assess the chips.

mccoys2

My immediate impression on first bite was “this is pretty starchy.”  They are potato chips, after all, so this is not a revelation.  Sometimes the border between starchy and stale becomes a bit blurred (I’m going to avoid any specific global conflict analogies).  This particular bag of chips lives in the starchy zone, but is so close to the stale zone that it often has to retrieve its football from the stale zone’s back yard.*  Luckily, the taste of chili overpowers both the starch and the stale, like the EU.

So do these taste like chili?  Yes- they taste like a combination of chili peppers and bell peppers.  They’re tangy and peppery without being too spicy.  If you’re not into peppers, these are obviously not the chips you’re looking for.  Would I buy these again?  Maybe not for myself, but for entertaining, i.e. people watching sports at my house.  These would probably be really good with a yogurt/sour cream-based dip (and maybe a bit of cheddar as well).

The most [pro]evocative part of this packet of chips is the label on the back, presented here without comment:

McCoys1

*The lighter shade of stale might be because this particular bag of chips is close to its eat-by date.

Nik Naks- Nice ‘N’ Spicy Flavor

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What can I say about Nik Naks?  I don’t think there’s anything quite like Nice ‘N’ Spicy Nik Naks (alliterative, no?) in the U.S.  On the package, Nik Naks are described as “knobbly, wacky sticks of corn.”  This led me to believe that these would look kind of like wiry Fritos.  Instead, Nik Naks are actually like Cheetos.  The appearance is where their similarities end, as least with regard to this particular flavor.

Nik Naks

My first impression was “Indian food.”  These taste like vegetable samosas.  As I’m a fan of Indian cuisine, I enjoyed these snacks very much.  I noted that curry powder is listed in the ingredients, so I assume that’s what’s prompting happy memories of my friends’ moms samosas (because the best samosas are made by friends’ moms).  These are also made with barley malt vinegar, which provokes a salt and vinegar chip aftertaste, which I also like.

I should note that I wrote this review while eating the Nik Naks.  I think that’s the best way to capture my impressions.  Unfortunately, the side effect of this is that my computer keys have become so greasy I can see my own reflection in them.  If you look closely, you can see the grease in the above picture.  It’s going to be pretty embarrassing when I have to take my computer in for a repair because grease has locked up the keyboard.  Although let’s be honest, the computer repairmen probably see that (and worse) all the time.

Marmite Rice Cakes

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Confession time- I’d never actually tried Marmite.  I’m pretty sure I would have remembered it.  It reminds me of something familiar though- a flavor from my childhood, perhaps?  Maybe it reminds me of the taste of soy sauce mixed with Worcestershire sauce, with which I became all too familiar during occidental cooking misadventures.  Either way, I enjoyed these snacky snacks.

Marmite 3

The flavor seems to be nicely distributed on the rice cakes.  Even though I’m not very familiar with Marmite, I do know my way around rice cake town, and I can tell you that the taste of rice is not overpowering, as it can be with some rice cakes.  The Marmite complements the rice.  Also, at no point was I thinking “this could use more fat.”  Some rice cakes give you flavor, but they leave you wanting something richer.  I enjoyed eating these, and I would eat them again.  They also have B vitamins, apparently.  Don’t get that B12 shot folks, just eat some Marmite (or mix some soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce and hope for the best).

Homemade “Doritos Dust?”

I started thinking about Doritos dust, and whether one could create it at home.  After a quick search, I found this recipe.  My first reaction was “duh, this is also known as seasoning, not flavor powder” (See prior post).  My second reaction was unbridled excitement.  My third reaction was “uuuggghhh, nutritional yeast.”  This recipe uses nutritional yeast instead of cheese.  Obviously, it’s a vegan site, so they’re not using dairy.  I like experimenting with non-dairy comfort food recipes, like mac and cheese with rice or almond milk.  I’m not knocking non-dairy alternatives generally.  However, I am knocking nutritional yeast as a replacement for cheese.  It just doesn’t do it for me.  I can definitely understand using it for this recipe, because it’s probably easier to get the Doritos dust consistency right with nutritional yeast, because it’s flaky.

I did some more research, looking for alternatives, and most of the recipes for Doritos dust on the web included nutritional yeast.  I realized that it was time for me to figure out how to make real “flavor powder,” because I was all “f’ing dessicated cheese, how does that work?” (See Miracles at 1:53).

Apparently the best way to turn cheese into delicious cheesy powder is to use a dehydratorDo people have dehydrators handy?  I certainly do not.  Enter Amazon.

There are a bunch of cheese powders available on Amazon.  They range from “all natural” to “cheese flavor.”  I looked beyond Amazon, and I found this from The Spice House.  It’s all natural, but it ain’t cheap.  This would be good if you want your junk food real classy-like.  There’s also this white cheddar variety from King Arthur Flour.  It’s also pretty classy.

During my research, I also found this very interesting New Yorker article about the history of cheese powder, it’s “opioid-like effects,” and its use by the U.S. military.  It’s a good, albeit slightly depressing, read.

Walkers Cheese & Onion

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Because I am a stranger in a strange land, I didn’t realize these were chips (or “crisps” in the local lexicon).

Walkers Cheese and Onion 1

Am I crazy, or does the package suggest that these are thicker, like something between a chip and a soy crisp/rice cake? Maybe I just saw what I wanted to see. Perhaps it’s because puffy snacks usually have more flavor powder? I’m using the term “flavor powder” as if it’s a technical term.  Some people call it “Doritos Dust.”  I just rebutted my own thesis there- Doritos aren’t puffy at all, and yet they have enough flavor powder to keep them warm during a long winter. These Cheese & Onion chips are not gilded in cheesy dust, yet they are “unmistakably” cheesy, per the description on the package. Is that really the best word they could come up with to emphasize the flavor of the chips? In the U.S., the flavor would be described as “booming cheese & onion” or “Philadelphia Cheese Steak.” Actually, the latter would be hyperbole, because these do pretty much taste- UNMISTAKABLY- like a union of cheese and onion. And not a Vegas-style rip-roaring union, but rather something more sedate, where everyone is wearing shoes.

These are good if you’re in the mood for Cheese & Onion chips. They’re more oniony than the Quavers I reviewed.  However, there are so many other types of chips, er, crisps, in England- including some great salt and vinegar chips- that I don’t think I’m going to develop cravings for these in particular.

PS- Every time I typed “crisp,” I accidentally typed “crips.”  I only noticed this after a read-through.  I think Soy Crips hang out at Whole Foods.

Wheat Crunchies- Crispy Bacon

Wheat Crunchies

I bought these because I thought they were stuffed with some sort of bacony goodness. In truth, I thought they’d be like Combos (a.k.a. the “Official Cheese-Filled Snack of NASCAR”). Alas, these are not stuffed with bacony goodness. In fact, they are not stuffed at all. This was a downer. But, I remained curious about the bacon flavor. I find it kind of amusing that their wheatiness (“flavour wheaty tubes”) is touted on the package. Sure, I suppose they’re made of wheat, but the strong bacon scent and taste tends to negate any wheat flavor.

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The bacon is strong with this one. When I opened the package, I thought of Bacon Bits, and also about Beggin’ Strips, which are bacon-themed American dog snacks that smell like something humans could eat. These smell and taste like a bacon bonanza. They’re also appropriately crunchy. The entire combination is kind of amusing- it reminds of something in patent law called an “awkward combination.”  An awkward combination is basically composed of three different products which have been changed slightly to make something new.  These snacks have the consistency of a corn or potato product, but they’re very emphatically made with wheat. They’re inexplicably tubular, as if designed by crunch engineers, and unlike most carbohydrate-based snack foods, they taste like meat. There’s a lot going on.

If you like bacon, or jerky generally, you’ll probably like these snacks. The initial bite is pretty salty, and despite my usual predilection for savory snacks, I actually prefer the rich, fatty aftertaste. These sensations- salt, then sumptuous fat- are not unlike those experienced while eating actual bacon. These Wheat Crunchies are probably as near to bacon as wheat will ever be, except on a farm.