i was looking rather forward to the bag of Lay’s Barbecue Ham chips that i picked up at a night market in Liège a few weeks back. so much so that i carted them across four countries, squirreled away in the recess under the van’s passenger seat, that they might be safe from being fallen upon by any of my bandmates in a fit of drunken chip-lust (or for that matter, loss of balance). i had vaguely entertained the notion of carrying them all the way back to Canada with me, but if i am to be honest with myself, i must admit that it was to simple lack of desire that they owed their continued existence, born of an already carbohydrate-heavy diet of road food that left me all too dense and gummy to subject them to any nobler fate than being eaten out of sheer boredom.
and they deserved better than that, i thought.
that i decided to finally crack into them in the passport-control waiting area of the Milano-Linate airport was due less to gastronomical curiosity than my unwillingness to continue goddamn worrying about such an unwieldy and immanently crushable addition to my carry-on luggage. as it turns out, it is for the best that i decided to do so in such inauspicious conditions. because they’re not very good. there is a discernible hammishness to them, but it lacks all the potency that earned Barcelona’s Jamón Ruffles* and the Jambon Fumée Lay’s of Marseille so dear a place in my heart. i had hoped that Belgium’s cultural and geographical propinquity to France might assure some similarity, but i see now the family resemblance is faint. it is the curve of the ear, if anything. so far removed one from the other that no scandal could be aroused by what nocturnal fumblings lie buried in their adolescence.
too late i recognize the warning signs that had earlier escaped me, writ plain across the face of the bag: the flavour already in English, the unmistakable picnic roast that we are to believe has been BBQ’d, along with the sheer unlikelihood that “BBQ HAM” is something that any Belgian has eaten often enough to confidently and faithfully reproduce using only the 200 variations of MSG and food colouring that comprise the traditional palette of the potato chip flavour scientist. upon investigating the ingredients, i can find no evidence of even a synthetic ‘condiment’ – they read: potatoes, sunflower oil, “barbecue ham flavour”. this latter consisting of “sugar, flavour enhancers (MSG, DSG, disodium inosiate), flavouring (contains milk ingredients), salt.” not that i don’t trust flavour enhancers (i don’t, actually. WHY WOULD I?), but i would wager that there being “flavour enhancers” in greater quantity than “flavourings” probably goes a long way to explaining the banality of these chips.
and yet here i sit, in the Milano airport, grossly and mechanically covering myself in chip crumbs, growing steadily denser while feebly trying to wish away my steadily depreciating contraband. contemplating the shapeless abyss of BBQ. waiting for the one that will take me home.
* although at the time (2008) i was still too timorously post-vegan to try the famed jamón ibérico that was ubiquitous in the local bars, i did fall dizzily in love with Ruffles’ homage to it. so much so that on my last, nightmarish, morning as i vomited my way through the Barcelona underground, i paused for a moment in front of a vending machine, just long enough to contemplate the feasibility of fitting four bags of the chips into my stowed luggage. i didn’t come away with any in the end, but did find a carefully folded empty bag in the breast pocket of my leather jacket, that i used to open up and smell sometimes. you know, like a maniac.