Thursday, February 13, 2003

Everything you ever wanted to know about crisps, but were too fat to ask.

Strap 25
I can't be arsed writing a strap. What follows is a boring story about... crisp! Yay! woo woo!

body 500

Two small babies. Eight bags of sugar. That's how much you, Joe Public, eat in crisps per year; a german eats twice that. A man in Texas once ate ten times that. And the list of delicious deep-fried statistics goes on. But one thing is for certain; we don't know as much about that fried lump of starch as we should.

Railway tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt would've; he was famed for his fastidious tastes, back in 1853. Native American chef George Crum would've too; he was king of his thick fries. After Vanderbilt had sent his too-fat chips back to Crum's kitchen for the umpteenth time, Crum blew his top, and shredded the chips into deep-fried slivers. Vanderbilt loved them and Crum's invention rapidly spread. So in conflict was the humble potato chip born.

Of course we Brits are justly famed for our crisp-love; we might only consume 8.5 million packs ourselves, but Walkers sends 4.5 billion round the world. Our little romance with this mandolined tuber started long ago. History says that Walter Raleigh brought the potato back from the Americas and presented it to Good Queen Bess back in 1570. Making a salad out of the leaves didn't prove as popular, and Raleigh was forced to explain (ever with the axe hanging over him) that the root was the edible bit.

The first proper British crisps were made back in 1913, by Mr Carter (like the best English food after the French fashion.) Since then of course we've gone from strength to strength, proliferating styles and flavours like only the most pernickety nation on earth could do. They stretch from the humble Smith's Square to the grotesque moreishness of Monster Munch to Proctor and Gamble's reformed pizza sized behemoth (two foot across, and on show in a US museum.)

Crisps invade every walk of life; they appear on the telly, they're turned into loveable cartoon characters, and they're endorsed by celebrities. Giant Haystacks was a Skips fan; Derek Nimmo loved his Space Invaders; and Gary Lineker is infamous for his endorsement of Walker's, getting paid £100,000 every time he gets a mention in. Even Yasser Arafat has his own brand, available in tasteful intifada colour schemes with a tenth of a cent going to his cause from every pack sold.

Whither the crisps of the future? It looks like the crisp market may split, with the esoteric potato forms and flavours spinning off up their own wotsit, and the 'real crisp' advocates taking the organic products back to basic. As Barney Rooney, an online organics expert says "The new crisps are tasty but for a bit of rough, they've ideas above their station. What's next? Powdered, tenderised encrusted pork scratchings sprinkled with sea salt?"

Two pints of lager and...
strap - we investigate the perfect potato-based accompaniments, whatever your taste.

The working man's drink needs some gritty crisps to go with it, something both filling and meaty in flavour. It has to be Lamb Monster Munch; each lump is hand-crafted from baked potatoes and mutton in the hills surrounding Aberstywyth, and dragged to the packing plan by rough ex-miners, who then stun the snack-beasts with welsh cheese before manhandling their struggling forms into the bags.

This southern drink really needs a cherry on the top, and a brolly on the side. Failing that we recommend Takeaway's Chinese Cracker crisps; delicate flutes of rehabilitated potato soaked in more E (numbers) than a rave, and more moorish than Granada. (The town, not the channel.) Try them with Takeaway's Deep Fried Blowfish for a true taste explosion.

Something for the lady
If it's sugary, highly alcoholic and ridiculously expensive then there's one counterbalance that might just save the evening (and stop her nicking your chips); pork crackling. Give 'er a bag of that, and every time she reaches for your bag, you slap her hand away, and point to her untouched scratchings. She'll start weeping at the horror of fat+ hair as a culinary treat, at which point you engulf her sobbing form in a manly hug, whilst moving your crisps carefully out of reach.

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