This may upset you to learn, but if you’re a potato chip fan living outside of Japan then you’re seriously missing out…
Japan may have arrived a little late to the potato chip game, but you’d better believe it grabbed that spud-shaped ball with both hands and has been running with it like a kid towards an ice-cream truck ever since. It’s true that Japan lacks a few of the classic chip flavours we in the west enjoy (it saddens me that the Land of the Rising Sun has yet to fully embrace salt & vinegar, for example), but some of its homegrown flavours are simply to die for.
Today we’ll be discussing five such potato chip—or potechi—flavours, with a view to convincing the rest of the world that it urgently needs to drop some of its flourescent-orange cheese puffs and corn snacks in favour of some of these delectable bites and give them a permanent home on their grocery store shelves.
The five Japanese potato chip flavours the west badly needs, in no particular order, are:
1. Nori Shio (seaweed & salt)
You’ll know nori (also known as Japanese seaweed) as the stuff that wraps onigiri rice-balls or floats in strips atop bowls of ramen. Water thin, green, and crisp until the moment a drop of moisture comes within three feet of it, nori is strangely moreish, even if it does have a habit of sticking to your lips and the roof of your mouth. It might not sound like the most obvious choice for a potato chip flavour, but nori combined with a little bit of salt is simply divine, and it gives your bog-standard potato chip that little bit of extra tang without ever being overbearing. It also provides the chips with a strangely alluring green hue, allowing you to convince yourself that you’re eating something slightly classy as you thrust them, a fistful at a time, into your insatiable shout-hole.
2. Shouyu Mayo (soy sauce & mayo)
I know, I know, this one actually sounds quite unpleasant on paper (especially for our North American readers, who seem to struggle the most with Japan’s fondness for mayonnaise), but when combined with the salty goodness of a thick-cute potato chip, soy sauce and mayo is a genuinely winning combination. Wonderfully salty yet pleasantly rich and creamy all at once, these things go down a treat with both beer and soft drinks, and you’ll be hooked from the first bite.
We’re going slightly off-piste for a moment here since we’re technically endorsing a whole brand rather than an individual flavour (and, yes, stick-shaped potato snacks like these can be found in other countries), but Calbee’s Jagariko really are in a league of their own. With their wonderfully texture, cut to the perfect thickness and with an assortment of strange-sounding (salad with carrot and parsley, anyone?) yet genuinely delicious flavours to try, Jagariko is both moreish and surprisingly filling, and you’d better believe that Calbee takes its recipe incredibly seriously. Jagariko come in little cups about a quarter of the length of a Pringles tube, each containing just enough sticks to share with a friend, but they’re best eaten as noisily as possible at home alone.
4. Mentaiko (spiced cod roe)
Fish-flavour potato chips?? Ewww! Right? Wrong. Whether you’re talking about chips, onigiri, or even spaghetti, mentaiko is one of Japan’s finest savoury creations (okay, technically it comes from Korea, but mentaiko tastes quite different in Japan). It doesn’t smell or taste fishy in the slightest, and the combination of natural salts and added spice work in perfect harmony to create rich, but not overbearing, flavour. Slap it on a quality potato chip like one from Calbee or fellow chip-giant Koikeya, and you’re in for a real treat. Trust us—if you’re a true potato chip fiend, then you need to put all thoughts of fish eggs out of your mind and get these in your mouth, pronto.
5. Wasabeef (wasabi & beef)
Last but not least, it’s the flavour that got us all talking in the office and prompted us to make this list: Wasabeef.
If you’ve been to a teppanyaki restaurant or had Japanese-style steak then you’ll know how well a good cut of beef goes with Japan’s horseradish-esque wasabi. So much more than just a slightly spicy meat-flavoured chip, Wasabeef is, in this writer’s opinion, one of the finest chip flavours in the whole wide world, and the fact that it can’t be found on every shop or store’s chip aisle is a crime against humanity. There, I said it. Deliciously savoury and with that unmistakable “hurts-so-good” wasabi burn, kids will hate these things, but grownups like us can’t get enough of them. Write to your MP. Start a petition. Do whatever it takes to get Wasabeef in your life and keep it there.
May the chips be with you, always. :p