I miss European potato chips

Illustration for article titled I miss European potato chips
Photo: Matthew Horwood (Getty Images)

In the mid-2010s, I had the privilege of going on a western European business trip that included stops in England, France, and Germany. My excitement at the prospect of visiting these amazing countries for the first time was soon eclipsed by the joy of realizing that I would have an opportunity to try as many new potato chip flavors as possible.

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At the time I was developing Potato Chip World, a website that was part potato chip brand encyclopedia and part love letter to the world’s greatest salty snack. As I expanded my coverage of global chips, I learned about many brands in the countries I would soon visit, many of which had a roster of flavors that were unavailable in the American market. I was determined to find, document, and eat as many different chips as possible—focusing on those un-American flavors.

In each new city we visited, I used Google Maps to plot walks to takeaways and grocery stores in the unpleasant winter weather. While my colleagues bonded over pints in the hotel lobby, I sat in my room sampling every potato chip flavor I could find, snapping photos of the bags and chronicling my thoughts. It was delightful!

Coming across each of those new-to-me brands in the wild was like finding a priceless baseball card in a pack you bought at the store. Spotting a collection of McCoy’s Mighty Meaty mini chip bags at a Tesco outside of London? Amazing! Overpriced (6 pounds!) Burts mini-bag at the hotel canteen? Wow! Peperoni (as in pepper, not the sausage) chips at a German gas station? Gemutlichkeit! I’m certain my excitement was obvious, but fortunately none of the store personnel mocked me to my face.

The return home to the States was definitely a rude awakening (and only partially jet lag). I’ve tasted well over 100 varieties of chips throughout my lifetime, and I can attest that many of the European flavors were just plain good. The quality and spice levels seemed fresher and more distinct than what we are accustomed to here in the U.S. It made me sad that I was never able to find in American stores what captivated me overseas. While you can get some European brands and flavors online, not having them immediately available a short walk or drive away is a real bummer. Sometimes a regional brand or a special Pringles/Lays release that may have a similar flavor to those European chips, they just don’t permeate the American market.

Of the near 20 different chip varieties I had overseas (25 if you count a trip to Italy a few years prior) here are the flavors and categories that I miss the most.

Meat

Perhaps Americans get so much meat in the rest of their diets that they don’t have to taste it vicariously through chips. I encountered meat-flavored chips in all the countries I visited. Roast chicken (or poulet roti in France) was in every store. Most of the varieties offered a hint of thyme with the boullion-y saltiness, all of which worked quite well on a potato canvas. Although there is a limited-availability Pringles chicken chip, it is not widespread (and also, the European flavors are better).

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In England, I also had potato chips in grilled bacon (smoky) and steak (smoky, plus A1 sauce) varieties. McCoy’s offers a variety pack of just meat-flavored chips—bacon, chicken and steak—similar to the Cheetos/Funyuns/Doritos/Lay’s pack of fun-size bags one may buy for a school field trip.

Ham and Mustard

Yes, ham is a meat, but it deserves its own category. I find mustard too aggressive on its own, but paired with a sweet, salty, smoky dance partner like ham, it makes for a really great flavor. Real Handcooked Ham & English Mustard crisps (in their top-notch packaging) were available in England and France, in “to-go” size bags. Ham should be in American potato chips, too. Even a ham and pineapple chip could conceivably work.

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Currywurst

And here is another specialty meat. Currywurst is a German dish that features a hot pork sausage slathered in curry and ketchup. I was taken aback by the thought of that combination at first, but the garlicky salty spice of the sausage melds well with the earthiness of the curry and the sweetness of the ketchup. But until currywurst stands become as ubiquitous in the U.S. as they are in Germany, the time horizon for this making a dent in the American market is pretty far off.

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Paprika

I thought of these like a very simplified barbecue chip, with no sweetness or garlic, just one step beyond a plain chip. These were everywhere, typically called paprika, though I did encounter the German variety called ungarisch (Hungarian). I have a hard time believing these wouldn’t be a hit in the States, especially if you apply some snazzy adjectives like “smoked” or “red.”

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These chips are a reminder of how varied the world can be and how there’s so much pure joy in exploration, even with potato chip flavors. I cannot wait for the next opportunity to travel and be nerdily awestruck by new and different flavors. And if any American chip company feels inspired to tackle any of these flavors, you have this chip fiend’s endorsement and support.

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Nick Leggin is a technology professional, writer, potato chip enthusiast, and former game show contestant.

DISCUSSION

Counterpoint: Since moving to Europe, like once a month I consider spending a truly insane amount of money to get Utz crab chips shipped here.