The Crisp List 2011.

I want to talk about crisps. Posh crisps, not so posh crisps, weird crisps, cheese crisps, crinkle crisps, plain crisps, cheap crisps. All types of crisp. Because the crisp is easily one of the greatest foodstuffs ever invented, and, despite the general atmosphere of obesity and heart disease, I think the crisp needs to be celebrated. Just because it’s made of potato and fried in oil doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. In moderation, everything’s fine.

Oh where to begin! I suppose, many years ago. When I was in primary school. We were allowed a packet of crisps once a week, usually on Tuesdays. The lunchbox set-up used to be – sandwiches, a variable, a Petit Filous yoghurt and a drink. The variable was always the best on Tuesdays as Tuesday was usually crisp day. Other days we get cherry tomatoes or slices of cucumber or carrot sticks. My mother is a massive health advocate. On the plus side, this selection that was to be found in the lunchbox immediately meant that everything in it was also pretty undesirable to one’s classmates. Nearly nothing in there was contraband, and I don’t ever remember having chocolate in there. No one wanted to trade, but that also meant it was difficult to obtain the tastier snacks from other lunchboxes. Never mind. I remember one day my best friend at the time had Pickled Onion Walkers, and it gave her lips a white lacerated look. This was oddly appealing to me, so ever since then, I have developed a habit of coating my lips in exceptionally well-flavoured crisps. It makes them burn. Why I love this I do not know, but it’s pretty good. I also like licking the flavour off of crisps, though I hear this is a pretty unsociable habit. It works best on salt and vinegar Pringles because you can usually SEE the layer of flavour on it. They seem to put it mainly on one half too. It’s disappointing if you get the wrong half.

So given that crisps were allowed but once a week, I believe this is the start of my love of them. This was then later developed by my parents rather honest way of consuming crisps in front of the television in the evening. Instead of politely putting them in a few bowls and people eating the odd one every now and again, everyone has their own bowl and fills it with whatever they want. Obviously this does not happen every night. But it’s very special when it does occur. Also, the move to University meant a much wider experimentation with crisps, especially considering the fact that there weren’t shops like Asda near home. The range is just fantastic. And, as one acquires more money in life, one can begin to afford the finer crisps in life. Of course, after school, one could just about spare the ten pence required for a packet of Space Raiders or Transform-A-Snacks. Space Raiders are immense because of the intensity of the pickled onion flavouring. I am the world’s biggest fan of vinegar. That is, however, a whole other subject to tackle. Transform-A-Snacks were never quite as good as the Raiders but one had to go with whatever was available. Then, progressing onwards, you get to the multipack bags of shop-brand crisps. I never go for these though, they just seem so weak compared to Walkers. Walkers are the best multipacks on offer. They have just recently brought out the Crinkles range, which seemed like a poor marketing choice to me as they already had the giants of crinkle-cut crisps Max on offer. Paprika seem to be the most popular choice, but does anyone remember the Salt and Vinegar variety in the Max range? They were so strong they nearly burnt the skin off of the roof of your mouth. Amazing. Walkers’ other highlights include their Smokey Bacon, Prawn Cocktail and Worcester Sauce flavours, though these are usually harder to find. They also have a habit of bringing out completely bizarre flavours every season, but these never seem to take off. The Football World Cup ones were pretty grim, but their more recent charity flavours were semi-ok. My favourite was the Stephen Fry-Up, and to this day it amazes me they can nearly simulate the flavours of a cooked breakfast into a crisps. The things they can do with artificial flavours.

Of course we can’t forget the smaller companies, still trying to eke their way in the savoury snack world. Frazzles and Chip Sticks deserve a mention, as do Squares. Although I think they may be Walkers too. Also in that category falls French Fries and Quavers, both of which are brilliant but the packet never lasts long enough. Salt and Shake are, amazingly, still around (I knew a friend who used to pour the salt straight into his mouth and eat the crisps plain afterwards). I am a huge fan of Monster Munch, though only really the pickled onion flavour. I think they do a “red hot” one and a “roast beef” flavour, both of which ruin the Monster. Also, they do a big Munch and a small, and the small are not big enough but with the big you never get enough in the packet. These are rare in consumption for me. Wotsits are the best in the cheesy puff area too, as, although shop-brand can be good, you never get the softness of Wotsits in anything other than them. They leave a residual sticky orange mess on your teeth for hours after. Hula Hoops are just fantastic, though I’d pass off the cheese and onion variety as “pretty naff”. It’s hard to tell which is better, the salt and vinegar or barbecue beef, but either way the Hula Hoop is better than any other hooped potato snack simply because it’s thicker. There’s more crunch there. I remember eating them off of my fingers like you used to when you were small, and biting too hard and getting added finger instead of just snack. Oh McCoys! We haven’t even begun to discuss McCoys. The salt and vinegar are, of course, pretty good, but their key player is their cheese and onion. So strong you won’t taste anything else all evening. Wheat Crunchies are among my favourite independent snacks, the bacon variety winning every time. Salt and vinegar Discos are also great as they texture is pretty different to all other crisps on the market. Plus you can pretend they’re monocles, like my dad used to do. Special mention here also to Skips as they seem so divisive, and because I know a lot of people who seem to be adverse to them being consumed in the car. They way they melt on the tongue, stick to your lips in a scary way, and then dissolve into a prawny mushy mesh is quite a creation I think. The Pom-Bear crisp, I think you will all agree, is something pretty different altogether. I don’t know what kind of flavouring they use, but their salted version tastes so unique compared to other plain-based crisps. You don’t need to go further than the red packet with Pom-Bears (they always used to be called Pom-Bärs when we were smaller, I think they’re German), it’s all you need. Perfect picnic accompaniment.

And the next time you’re in a pub, although it seems typical to buy four packets of Walkers and open them from the side like my mum always used to do, so the packet’s more like a silver plate and everyone can join in, try this instead. Scampi Fries (obviously one of the best creations known to man), with their bite-sized pieces yet intense flavour, and Bacon Fries. Combine the two packets and you have there Pub Surf and Turf. Although I disagree with serving up both fish and cow on the same plate, there is no crime in obtaining two types of crisp and sharing them with a friend for optimum flavour range. On this subject, DO NOT TRY THE CHEESE MOMENTS, THEY ARE NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION.

I should also like to point out here the shop-brand crisps that you can find in all big-name supermarkets. There’s salt and vinegar twirls, cheesy puffs, potato chips, potato hoops (your standard Hula Hoop replacement), onion rings (I begrudgingly mention these as they are a bit of a travesty in the crisp world – not only are they not made of potato, they are also cold. Onion rings should be piping hot, fresh from the fryer), prawn cocktail shells (a Skip replacement) and, my current love, the “snack variety” pack that you can get in Sainsbury’s and a few other stores. Completely bizarre and pretty incongruous but so good. They have circular lattices, square shells, tubular sticks and more – usually one flavour, but all in the same bag. Confusing but tasty.

I feel this is a good point to mention Mini Cheddars. I not sure as to whether there are really a crisp, a biscuit or just a savoury snack. They would fall into the crisp category if supplied in a lunch box though, I feel, so they do deserve a place on this list. I seem to remember being able to get ham flavoured ones when we were small, or maybe it was cheese and ham – but they were excellent. I disagree with the salt and vinegar flavour of nowadays, and while the Crinkle range are good, they don’t have the incredibly dry, stodge-tastic element that the normal flat ones do. The normal sized Cheddars also make good essay food, if you are interested.

And now we move onto the big guns. I’m talking Doritos, Pringles, Tyrells, Burts, Kettle Chips. Kettle Chips are so good, yet they phased out the New York Cheddar variety so long ago I can’t remember what it tastes like any more. They were easily the best flavour on the market, although their new cheese variety and the sour cream and onion are pretty good. Their new ridge range is possible better than the original, the salt and vinegar is so intense. Now Pringles. You can’t possibly eat a whole tube on your own. It’s not achievable. At least, it’s not a good idea. This is a range where the plain variety really comes into its own. I’m not entirely sure, but I think it might be the best in the selection. I really think the tiny tubes of them are ridiculous too, overpriced and a waste of packaging. When it comes to Doritos, obviously it’s between two flavours – tangy cheese or cool original. This really is a mood-based thing, when it comes to deciding which one you want, I honestly don’t think I could pick one flavour over the other. I can, however, rule out the salted nacho type, because why not just buy Sainsbury’s Basics tortilla chips for 50p? When these went from 25 pence to 50 literally overnight, it was a sad day for students everywhere. It might only be 25 pence but it’s still a 100% increase. What’s that all about? I also rule out the spicy Doritos. Spicy crisps and I don’t go. It’s not a thing. Not even the sweet chilli Walkers Sensations. Savoury, not spicy. However, in the Sensations range, they are some outstanding winners. Vintage cheddar and chutney, balsamic vinegar and caramelised onion, and they have recently brought out goat’s cheese crisps. Now, yes, these are with a chilli flavour too, but the goat’s cheese is good enough to balance it out. Nothing beats goat’s cheese.

The eternal question asked by crisp-lovers everywhere is what’s better – Tyrells or Burts? I’m inclined to say the latter, but I know an awful lot who would back the former. Kettle Chips are different, they’re posh but you know where you are with them. Tyrells bring out crisps that are, for example, Ludlow sausage and mustard. Ham and cranberry. Summer barbecue. Who wants to eat that on a crisp?! Yes they are posh and pretty tasty (with the more conservative flavours), but by my reckoning, they don’t cut their potatoes thick enough and I’d rather my crisps weren’t as translucent or as experimental as Tyrells. Burts, on the other hand, are outstanding. I think they’re my favourite of the posh-middle-class crisp area. Their smokey bacon wins every time, it’s so salty it makes your tongue twinge with it. The most disappointing crisp in the Burts range are the “seasonal” pesto variety. They just taste like garlic. As an avid lover of pesto, this was a great disappointment to me. However, I think, when faced with the dilemma of which to pick, if I had enough money, it would be the Burts.

So there you have it, my dissection of the crisp-world. It is a beautiful world, when used properly, you can’t eat crisps all the time. Otherwise you’d have no skin left inside your mouth and would probably die before you hit forty. Enjoy crisps responsibly, then you’ll always find yourself wanting more. The humble potato wins again.


Song of the Day #37.

LCD Soundsystem – Get Innocuous!

Oh LCD, how I love thee. How I wish I’d seen you more before you so meanly split and didn’t let anyone see you ever again (bastards). Even snazzier, I managed to catch them in Berlin, the line up also included Boys Noize AND Hot Chip. Even with just those three acts, thinking about it, the line up was brilliant. So do enjoy this tasty piece of the Soundsystem, hit yourself for not having seen them when you could, and then get involved in their back catalogue. If you happen to have a further ten spare minutes, may I recommend the Soulwax (who were on the same bill again) remix, can be found just below. Soulwax, too, are immense by the way.

Later with Jools Holland – 27th September 2011

I was less apathetic about this week’s edition than last, and there was more to yell at the television and pay attention to, which was nice.

I couldn't bring myself to put a picture of them in

First off was Kasabian. These chaps have done some reasonable things in the past and I think I prize them higher than most other indie-landfill, but I still don’t find it amazing. Plus that guitarist really needs a haircut (you know the one I mean, he looks like a cross between Noel Fielding and Elgar. Two people who I think have never been crossed before). The lyrics really are shocking, a child could do better, especially in the chorus of ‘Velociraptor’. I was wondering if the lyrics were supposed to be representing something, but I don’t think they’re that insightful. That said, it’s not bad. Not their best but not bad.

Wilko Johnson – oh hello creepy-looking man who needs some hair to stop him looking like a singing skull.. I was very impressed with this though, especially given the fact he’s nearly 70 and I’ve always thought, whenever I’ve seen him billed on events listings that it would be tragically bad. It was pretty Dr Feelgood-esque (as you’d imagine), and he had two Blockheads with him (all coming from Essex I think). Classic but good, and he was “with it” in interview too, advertising the support band on tour with them. And he seemed to care about what he was doing. Which is nice.

James Morrison – oh my god oh my god no! This was so hideous I nearly threw up. The man and the guitar slot doesn’t even play his own guitar? I feel I’ve been short-changed. In these situations I’d at least like to be able to say “on the plus side, he can sing,” but his voice was so excruciatingly modern it was painful. It’s almost as painful for me as it’s to be for him. He, as a musician, was described as “supermarket soul” by Benchlad, a phrase which works in many ways – essentially he is as dull as shopping in the supermarket, but also his CDs mainly will be bought by middle aged mums when they see it in the charts in the supermarket. How very depressing. He’s so whiney and boring I actually had to mute it the second time round.

Wretch 32 feat. Josh Kumra – what the hell is this? If this is supposed to be fusion, they’ve failed. It’s awful. Like they’ve tried to do amazing layering in a traditional a cappella style but they just sound like they’re talking over each other. Whatever it is in the background it is NOT music. Why two drum kits? Really, what are all those people on stage doing? There’s some bird warbling to herself like a self-obsessed, possessed demon, reminiscent of The Exorcist crossed with Laura Marling. They have two male leads – decide on one! AND WHERE ARE MY VIOLINS? If you feature strings, put them on stage. There’s enough room. Get rid of the surplus. This was truly terrible.

Pajama Club – Turns out, the chap on drums (I think? It’s hard to tell) was first in Split Enz and then Crowded House? Did not know. However, all that (relatively) decent heritage didn’t make for a winning number this time. Maybe it’s just got progressively worse over the years for Neil Finn, I don’t know. This was very much a lot of nothing though, like they’d tried to usher in some modern electro parts but failed on the minimalist front. I was bored.

Fatoumata Diawara – I wonder how many times Jools had to practise that name.. Anyway, this bird was from Mali, and aside from Wilko Johnson, she was the best thing on this week. She clearly came in at the last minute to fill the man a guitar slot (equal ops on Jools it would seem) that James Morrison cried all over, and it was rather good. She sang in what I presume was her native language, which I much preferred than her singing in English (I think I like trad elements in my music?), and gently plucked her guitar whilst singing. She looked so bloody happy too! Awesome vocals, I’m glad this was here to save the show.