This could change everything.
Traditionally, I’ve limited the Yeah, I Ate That column to weird foods I can obtain at local stores and restaurants. Aside from the occasional field trip to the Wisconsin State Fair or the Minnesota State Fair, it didn’t make sense to try foods from places that readers can’t easily get to. Also, I’m not sure the Cap Times would pay for a trip to Asia just so I could try Wasabi Oreos.
But Amazon and eBay may change the game.
Recently, I wrote about the Lay's Tastes of America promotion, in which the potato chip company offered special limited-edition flavors inspired by regional cuisine. There was something like a dozen flavors released, but in a strange bit of parochialism, only a handful of flavors were available in a given region. So Wisconsin only got Ketchup, Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers and Deep Dish Pizza — no Cajun Spice, Pimento Cheese or Lobster Roll for us.
Luckily, there’s the internet. A quick search on Amazon found that several of the flavors were being sold by third-party vendors, including the Gold Mine — a collection of snack-size bags of every one of the new flavors. A bargain at only $20 plus shipping!
This really does open things wide open. Maybe I can order those Wasabi or Chicken Wing Oreos direct from China. Or maybe somebody in India would be nice enough to pack a McDonald’s Chicken Maharaja Mac in dry ice and send it to me. The possibilities are limitless! Although apparently there's a burgeoning black market for exotic snacks — I saw one bag of Lobster Roll chips going for $19 on Amazon.
For now, I had a big box of potato chips to dig into. I started with the Thai Sweet Chili, which was sweeter than I expected despite the title, the chili sauce flavor bringing very little lasting heat.
I had the same reaction to the Pimento Cheese, based on the spread of cheese, mayo and cayenne pepper that’s popular at potlucks and church socials in the South. I couldn’t taste any pepper in the creamy cheese-mayo mix, making for a solid if unspectacular chip.
Chesapeake Bay Crab Spice wasn’t as foreign to me as it might normally have been, because I had spent my summer vacation in North Carolina and was able to try some of the regionally made chips there. I couldn’t taste any crab meat flavor at all in the chips, which was something of a blessing. The focus is the Old Bay seasoning typically put on crabs, a zesty mix of celery salt, pepper and paprika.
I did get a fishy taste with the Lobster Roll chips, along with the buttery taste of the grilled bun. It wasn’t bad, but I couldn’t get my mind around the oddness of a seafood taste on a potato chip. Would people eat a Trout Chip if it was made available to them?
I had a bit of a bias toward Cajun Spice chips. Back in the 1980s, Cajun Spice Ruffles were my absolute favorite flavor, and I never quite got over it when they were discontinued. They tasted just as I remember them, with a tangy heat that lingers in your mouth for a little while afterward.
Also bringing the heat was the Chile Con Queso, which exactly recreates the taste of the spicy, cheesy dip, and was the spiciest chip of the bunch. It was also one of my favorites, and one that Lay’s ought to put in a more permanent rotation.
Finally, I finished things off with the Fried Pickles with Ranch, which is supposed to be a Midwest-inspired flavor, which makes it strange that we didn’t get it here in Wisconsin. Anyway, I’m not usually a fan of pickle chips, finding them too sour to be enjoyable. But the addition of the creamy ranch flavoring takes the edge off of the pickle’s tartness and makes for a very enjoyable mix of flavors.
Thanks to the miracle of interstate e-commerce, I got to try the complete set of Lay’s Flavors of America. Ain’t that America, to you and me.