Every time I go to India Sweets and Spices, my local Indian supermarket, I end up buying some kind of subcontintental potato chip/crisp. This seems a reasonable thing to buy, since the Indians obviously have a pretty good way with potatoes, whether it be Bombay aloo or sukhi bharji or wada pav.
That’s a wada pav above (spellings vary), essentially a potato sandwich, and to those of us who grew up in the north of England eating chip butties, it seems both natural and comparatively sophisticated.
The Indians also have perfected the aloo paratha: unleavened dough into which spicy potatoes have been incorporated, then rolled out and cooked on a griddle with butter or ghee. That’s the “proper” method anyway, but I once had a version in an Indian Restaurant in London, that was an ordinary unstuffed paratha that had simply been folded over and heap of mash shoved inside. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing.
So yes, I’m always optimistic when I buy my Indian potato snacks, but they always turn out to be strange and disappointing.
Take those curious little suckers above - Anand Potato Chips (Masala), masala being a term that doesn’t meant much more than mixed spices, and spicy they were, in fact they were so hot that the aftertaste was as though you’d shaken chili pepper directly into your mouth. But at least they had a crispness about them.
Another attempt was Mo’pleez Spicy potato chips (above), masala again, which delivered the experience of eating dry, tasteless crackers that had been left in a drawer for a couple of months. Mo’pleez is a terrific name but my real feeling and that of people I shared them with was “no mo’ ever again, thank you.”
Still hope springs eternal, and when I had the chance to try three different varieties of potato “wafers,” manufactured by Balaji Wafer Pvt. Ltd, based in Gujurat, and according to their website, “In year 2003 Balaji Group took pride to introduce this biggest fully automated Potato processing machinery plant in India which can process 4500 kg. potato and make 1200 kg. of chips per hour.” Impressive.
The three flavors, as you see, were Simply Salted, Cream and Onion, and Magic Masala (of course). Simply salted was a little too simple for my tastes, and perhaps lacking in salt, and the Cream and Onion was not bad at all, though common or garden all-America sour cream would have been zestier. But the Masala: oh my, I’d never tasted anything quite like it.
I’d try one and think, what is that flavor, Mint? I’d try another. Was that sugar? Chutney? Well, there was no mint, but sugar was third on the list of ingredients, after potatoes and vegetable oil, and I think the thing that was mostly responsible for the taste was the dry mango powder. I found the result sort of cloying and vaguely unpleasant. We know that mango chutney is a staple of Indian cookery, and something that by and large I like with an Indian curry, but not so much as a coating for spuds.
Still, they are no doubt made with local Indian tastes in mind, and if there seems to be something vaguely absurd about potato snacks that have had to travel 9000 miles (the locavores would be horrified) no doubt there are many Indian immigrants in LA who think these snacks are worth every bit of the effort.
In general I’m with the local lobby, nevertheless, having been down to the (somewhat) local branch of World Market I’ve just bought a six pack of exotic beers and ciders from around the world (sold for a pretty reasonable $1.99 each. Consequently I’ve been enjoying some Einstock Olgero, Icelandic white ale, featuring “the complex flavors of a classic Witbier, including orange peel and coriander.” I couldn’t detect the coriander but the orange was definitely there, and I was pretty happy with that. The mavens over a RateBeer.com don’t seem to like it a whole lot but I thought it was pretty good, though that may have had something to do with the tequila chaser, made by Sauza, a company located in the municipality of Tequila, in the state of Jalisco in Mexico. The tequila glass, incidentally, was bought in Jalisco, in Guadalajara. How international can you get?