It’s just potato sliced into sticks, nothing special surely? An everyday food to be taken for granted, and given less regard than the condiments you drown them in.
Surely little more than a baton of starch to transport ketchup from bottle to waiting maw, a thin golden line between civility and just necking the bloody thing and calling it lunch.
Well I’d like to take some time to look back on the chips of yesteryear, the varying quality available to a child of the 80s was immense and certainly not all were created equally.
Let’s get the utter trash out of the way first. These were dry, cloying cardboard aspiring affairs, sold in a four stone bag and taking up half the freezer by itself. The all-purpose gut filler for the culinarily uninspired, regardless of what Bernard Matthews’ Amusing-Shape-In-Breadcrumbs was being served alongside it. These mass produced julienne would fill the majority of your plate. Fill it with sadness and remorse, remorse that your parents couldn’t cook.
Special mention to Crinkle Cut introducing us early to the concept of good presentation hiding poor quality. While initially raising hopes that these might be a ‘Cut Above’ (sorry), they quickly proved themselves to simply be corrugated cardboard.
A brand name that still thrills me to this day, due in no small part to their advertising campaign. Like many brands in the 80s, McCain jumped on the bandwagon of taking an existing chart hit and putting new and product appropriate lyrics to it. In this case The Coasters’ Yakety Yak.
Presented by a bowl-cut haired lady as a mum with three randomly teleporting children desperately rifling through her kitchen trying to find sustenance. I suspect that her cupboards are just full of Shake and Vac though.
A box of chips you put into the microwave and they’re ready in 3 minutes! Only 3! Even a child can wait three minutes, providing they’ve found a suitably rocket shaped bottle to play with while they were inexplicably searching under the sink for food.
So helmet-haired mother prepares her tesseracting offspring some of these… apparently in a centrifuge set to 500 RPM.
“Great from the box or on a plate”. Well clearly the value of these chips comes from the novelty of their packaging and preparation. This is no bare-bones, no-frills, Yellow-Label, eat-it-till-you’re-dead sleeping bag full of sliced potato, no – this is a stylish red and yellow box with luxurious foil interior. This is food worthy of astronauts; you’d have to make a cardboard box spaceship just to imagine surroundings appropriate to such a dining experience. Why would anyone POSSIBLY want them on a dull old plate like they have in real life?
“Real Chips Quickity Quick”. That’s the real crux of the matter here: “real” chips. Just what qualifies as real? Without wanting to go looking up books that were shown for a nanosecond in The Matrix in an attempt to look highbrow, I think we all know what they’re getting at. “Real” chips, “proper” chips. What oven chips aren’t and what Microchips want to be. But aren’t. They’re gimmick chips. Though do please take note of the fact that they have both crinkle cut and straight varieties with an inverted colour scheme from each other. This will become important in a future article.
Overall Microchips were… okay but a bit sweaty because they were done in a microwave.
Now, far from the traditional opinion of school meals being the worst possible source of nourishment in existence, tasting worse than the worms you’d eat for attention on the playground, my recollections of them are almost entirely pleasant.
(There were the occasional times we’d be served “yogurt”: this was served in a bowl, using a ladle out of a great big vat. There was one flavour: rancid milk with pictures of strawberries shredded into it.)
But I digress, school chips for me were a thing of beauty, crisp, golden brown, fluffy and rarely enough of them. I well recall eating them with such appreciation (greed) that a particularly crunchy specimen pinged off my plate and landed squarely in my glass of water. The teacher on our table taking the time to make this an educational experience and point out how the grease was flooding out of said chip.
The grease was perhaps the key to the fact that these were so much more ‘real’ than anything we got at home; plates were cleaned and ‘second helpings’ went quickly, certainly there were never any left by the time the headmaster got to “any more for any more?”
‘Helping’ is an odd word when serving food, I’ve always thought, used in school meals and then never anywhere else in life ever. Upon first hearing it in nursery I wondered if it meant they were going to help us eat it. No one wants that kind of help.
Chip shop chips
And so we arrive, inexorably, at our destination. You knew where we were going. With all the inevitability of fish following chips. Or of the deep regret following a visit at closing time when they sell off everything dirt cheap and you go home carrying enough food for ten people, weird stuff you’d never buy too like battered cornedbeef patties, spam fritters and “beanies”. That’s the haul that sits there for days, tempting you toward early death as it congeals.
But here at least may be found the only chip worth its salt (once again, I am sorry, I have a condition). The ‘Real’ chip, no other may hold a tea-light to that which is created under the bright lights of the chippie, deep in the polished silver fryer, swaddled in grease paper, baptised in non-brewed condiment before being thrice bound in newspaper. Enshrouded to a perfect parcel of fibrous tabloid.
And even though you were paying for it, it was still a gift, wrapped and presented to you and one you’d hold close to your chest, the barest warmth escaping its insulating layers. Though it did little mask the aroma and your journey from shop to the chosen venue of your meal would be fraught with a continual olfactory tingling.
Chips in the car meant you could unwrap it straight away, peeling away sheet after sheet, like Pass the Parcel except without the disappointment of getting Dolly Mixtures at the end of it. This was the game you got to win every time, you knew the prize and the slow reveal only increased anticipation.
Waiting until you got home meant you had to have it on a plate, you know, like in real life.
If you want more from Patrick, check out his podcast sketch show This, That and The Other at ttato.co.uk.