product review

Fragments of A Tour Journal. (day 24)

i should have been tipped off by them not being "Jambon Barbecue"


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.


In Honour of the Resurrection of Chips.

The first time, on our way to Germany, we had sat downstairs while our meal was being made. There were big soft leather chairs, and on the dark table was a bowl of the first potato chips i ever saw in Europe, not the uniformly thin uniformly golden ones that come out of waxed bags here at home, but light and dark, thick and paper-thin, fried in real butter and then salted casually with the gros sal served in the country with the pot-au-feu.

They were so good that i ate them with the kind of slow sensuous concentration that pregnant women are supposed to feel for chocolate-cake-at-three-in-the-morning. I suppose I should be ashamed to admit that i drank two or three glasses of red port in the same strange private orgy of enjoyment. It seems impossible, but the fact remains that it was one of the keenest gastronomic moments of my life.

MFK, from The Gastronomical Me, The Measure of My Powers, 1931-1932

homemade chips and port. on the somethingth day we are risen.


product review

“Like A Pizza Chip, But A Pizza That Has Chorizo On It”

see also, the staircase in the vatican

we ate a lot of chips in europe – really, as many and as often we could, spending as much time as we did infighting and friendless, stalking the streets of Paris, Rome, Marseille with our plastic sacks of tiny watery french beers and unslakeable thirsts for something worth writing home about.

unfortunately and paradoxically (as i -am- writing home about them, after a fashion) Bret’s Chorizo chips do not really qualify.

it is useful in this project to have already a shared lexicon, as do those of us who came of age in the canadian wilds during the heady madness of the Early ’90s Chip Flavour Bonanza (pizza! hamburger! hot dog! roast turkey & stuffing! bacon & . . . chive or something!). we already have these flavour complexes to work with – handy as points of reference, but that perhaps also hinder our ability to break down and properly evaluate what it is we are tasting.

the canon already does this – salt & vinegar, bbq, ketchup, to a lesser extent sour cream n’ onion and dill pickle – think of how complex are even those elementary particles! by way of example, take the list of ingredients for Ruffles “Authentic BBQ”: Sugar, Corn Maltodextrin, Dextrose, Brown Sugar, Onion Powder, Monosodium Glutamate, Spices, Salt, Tomato Powder, Molasses Solids, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Modified Corn Starch, Artificial Color [Including Yellow 5 Lake, Yellow 6 Lake, Blue 2 Lake, Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 1], Sunflower Oil, Garlic Powder, Corn Starch, Citric Acid, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Natural Mesquite Smoke Flavor, Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guanylate.

to say nothing of so hilarious a succession of chemical compounds*, the actual organoleptic profile – the phenomenal and psychological experiences of so many interacting flavours, clustering into identifiable units of taste, progressively aggregating in the mind until one has a (somewhat) clear sense of what is meant by “bbq” (or salt & vinegar, which one can bet is only exceptionally just salt and vinegar) is both impressive and typical of the sort of shortcuts the brain creates in order to make the perceptual world liveable, endurable.

which leads then to conversational double-helixes such as the following:

“it’d be a pretty good pizza chip, though.”

“yeah, except if it was a pizza chip, you’d still be like, this doesn’t taste like pizza.”

. . . .

“well, maybe a pepperoni pizza.”

yeah, i suppose this spicy cured meat flavoured potato chip does maybe taste like pizza with spicy cured meat on it.

* the November 23rd issue of the New Yorker, which i am long past due talking about, it being the FOOD ISSUE, and having a feature article on POUTINE (“Quebec’s Funniest Food“) no less, contains a thoroughly fascinating article by Raffi Khatchadourian on Givaudan, global leader in taste/scent manufacture, which you should check out if you’re in the least interested in interesting things. my attitude toward the piece is in noway influenced by reading it on a park bench in Marseille, stuffing myself with fresh baguette and camembert. it was a sunny day and we didn’t get laughed at much (although once, gallingly, by two 13-year-olds on a motorbike), but i think “The Taste Makers” holds its own.


Food As Destroyer, Part One.

it only truly becomes "comfort food" with the addition of hundreds of toasts, after which, well, you know as well as i...


i’ve been meaning to touch upon this theme for a long time, and actually misremembered doing so as part of a follow up to my claim to eventually give Benjamin’s piece on figs some serious attention. i could have sworn i wrote a whole thing out, but there’s not even anything in my drafts, so perhaps i made it all up?

hell, i even have a (perhaps false?) memory of writing it and as i descended further into my usual spiral of nigh-unreadable gibbering abstraction, thinking to myself “this is just starting to sound more and more like i have an eating disorder” and sort of thinking twice about posting. perhaps i not only thought twice, but also destroyed the evidence? or maybe i -did- write it and even posted it, but just can’t now seem to find it, despite everything being laid out in clear, chronological order?

so if you see something that sounds like that, let me know.

because i’m not doing it now. what i am doing now is a sort of a conceptual verlan of one of the key terms in the lazy wordplay that is the blog’s title:

while it is obvious how sickness from excessive eating relates to Food As Destroyer, what concerns me now is what one eats when one is sick, and what i have realized is in my case the delicate and fraught relationship between Comfort Food and Thanatotic (see  As Destroyer) Food.

we all have comfort food, perhaps different comfort foods for emotional and physical illness, respectively. this may be distinct or may overlap with the food we eat when we are sick, in order to (hopefully) become less sick.

for example, when i am sick, and want to get better but still eat something delicious, i usually turn to brown rice and steamed kale, probably with a very ginger/garlic/nutritional-yeast-heavy miso-tahineh sauce. easy to digest, you got greens in there, got other aggressively healthy shit in there, but it’s still salty as hell, therefore good. this is not, however, a comfort food, even though i enjoy it thoroughly.

when it is specifically a comfort food i’m looking for, while sick, usually i make a can of tomato soup with shit ton of oregano and garlic and cayenne and olive oil, AND (and this is where the real comfort comes in, and also the beginning of the death drive, oddly) several heavily-margarined slices of toast. because you can’t eat tomato soup without toast, right? duh. this would be all well and good, but that inevitably i end up continuously making toast over the course of my  consumption of the soup, resulting usually in me eating, oh, 7 to 10 pieces of toast, and probably a cup of margarine in total, and being so hideously gorged that my body has to divert all its energies into digesting the oily glue-heap in my stomach instead of repairing and repelling whatever illness i should be battling.

somewhere in the process of this meal (say, 4 toasts in?), i become faintly conscious that i am eating to destroy – not the food, but myself.

where this becomes patently obvious is my tendency to eat chips and chocolate bars when i’m sick, in full cognisance of the fact that not only is it doing me no good, but that i am doing it in part to Do Me No Good, to, rather, Do Me Ill.

see, i used to be sick a lot, and this really fostered an antagonistic Cartesian split in my life. basically goes like this: i get sick, and then am all like “WTF, BODY? i treat you well with whole grains and some other healthy nonsense and this is how you go and do me? well how do you like this?” (as i stuff a fistful of chips into my mouth) “and this!” (the next fistful of chips), and so on, until i have eaten an entire bag of chips, and for a moment feel a perverse sort of victory that is part sheer delight at having tasted delicious chips for such an extended period of time, part the guilty pleasure that comes whenever one eats an entire bag of chips (i think this is similar to the absurd celebratory-shameful tone that one adopts when recounting/realizing out loud that one spent over 100 dollars on booze in the past 24 hours), and part mad Flagellant monk triumph over the body that says “Hey body, what’s up? bet you feel like shit, eh? well, how you like me now?! remember, i made you (untrue, admittedly) and i can unmake you, never forget that.” as if you’re teaching your stupid body some sort of -lesson- for being self preserving enough to get sick? it’s really insane, but that’s basically how it goes.

what makes it all the more perverse (or all the less? i can’t even tell anymore) is that there’s a sort of liberating jouissance to the process of chip-eating in such instances. i feel like i rarely more fully experience the potato chip than under these circumstances – the salt just seems more alive on the tongue, and when one reaches  (sooner than usually) the level of depravity of scarfing whole mouthfuls (mouthsful?) of chips at a time, there is a certain satisfaction their jagged edges jabbing into and scraping the roof of the mouth, gums, tongue, inside lips, and it becomes a trial to even crunch through the haphazard formation, but a trial all the more worth undergoing for the reward of reducing it all to a pulpy, starchy, salty mass in the back of the mouth. at which point there is a moment of calm – the fire in the brain settles, serenely, like the storm of chips now reduced to a placid, masticated sea of potato purée.

it’s something about taking part in the transmutation of a chaos of angularity and imbrication into a sort of ordered formlessness – a collapsing of states – guess deceptively like a real physical transformation of solid into (pseudo) liquid.

isn’t it?

coming soon: more reviews?

markets, product review

The Plot Chippens…

so i guess Blair’s – creator of the dangerous and much beloved SUDDEN DEATH sauce, also has a snack food line, adorably entitled DEATH RAIN. this i discovered at, of all places, Real Bagels on ste Catherines (4160 Ouest). i went in because i noticed they had a big sign advertising empanadas (accompanied, interestingly enough, by text dismissing the distinctions between patties, pizza pockets, empanadas and calzones, on the grounds that they are all basically the same and delicious and you should buy some right now. also, world peace, i assume), and i was surprised to find that the place appears to be a legitimate bagelry, as well as bakery, selling a wide variety of empanadas, knishes, patties and other (usually stuffed) savoury bready things, and are a purveyor of hot sauces and illy espresso. not bad, since i had heretofore dismissed them as a shitty businessperson/alexis-nihonian snack cafe.

the empanadas are around $2.50, i had the 3 cheese, which was okay, and a broccoli and cheese, which was pretty decent, and had onion slivers baked onto the top. no free sauce though, which was unfortunate.

blair_s_death_rain_habanero_chipsreturning to the point though, i picked up a bag of Blair’s Death Rain Habanero chips, and they’re pretty damn good. the hottest flavour of the chip line (which includes bbq, cheddar, chipotle, buffalo wings, and cajun), they weren’t problematically so, but i guess where chips are concerned you sort of want something that you can actually eat and touch without protective clothing. that said, they were good and salty, sort of like a not-sweet bbq flavour, and undoubtedly the hottest potato chips i’ve ever had. Real sells them for $1.75 for a small (2 oz?) bag, which is a little pricey, but honestly i don’t think i’d want to eat much more than that amount. i had to be a little careful too not to inhale while the chip was in my mouth but before i started chewing or a choking and coughing fit was almost unavoidably. i tried the cajun ones too, which are the next less spicy, but wasn’t really taken with them. a little bland.

enflavourment redefined, dudes.

product review

I’m Going to Have to Put Them in a Casserole…or Something.

i was pretty sure i had fond remembrances of Herr’s potato chips, perhaps largely out of a sort of visceral jouissance at seeing them challenge frigging Old Dutch in the race (perhaps too strong a word) to fill the void left by the disappearance of Maple Leaf chips from their station as the Humpty Dumpty/Ruffles/Lay’s alternative (which i still refer to as the “dollar bag” niche, despite the fact that outside of Dollaramas and Southern Ontario gas stations one is unlikely to pay as little as one dollar for such a bag), but this particular bag of Herr’s (non-rippled) Regular has left me a little underwhelmed.

they are not so meagre in their salt as PC or Wavy Lays (see post, August 17th), but are still a little middling in that respect, and unfortunately also suffer from that chip equivalent to beer’s skunkiness that for lack of a term more readily at hand i shall describe as “chippiness.” i’m sure you know what i mean, it’s like…sort of like a bag that smells stale(ish), but not precisely stale-  more a case of convergent evolution (or i don’t know, a sort of olfactory homonymy?) whereby it almost comes across as stale, but you know (by investigation of the bone structure or spelling what have you) that it is not in fact stale, or not even wrong, but merely too….chippy.

Continue reading