Chips Are the Ultimate Snack and You Can't Convince Me Otherwise

I don’t know what we did to deserve these salty snacks, but I’m grateful.

Pouring a bag of potato chips into a bowl
Photo: Sarah Crowder

My earliest food memory is of a three or four-year-old me wandering around my grandparents' house in the middle of some celebration, curly pigtails sticking out at odd angles, blanket tucked in the crook of one arm, a bag of Cheetos held tightly in my hand, signature orange dust coating the stubby little-kid-fingers on the other. I had a huge grin on my face, because, well … Cheetos. According to my mom, who also recalls this little vignette with clarity, that night was the first time I tried chips. Not to be dramatic, but that was the real start of my life. OK, maybe I sound a little over-the-top here, but the fact that I remember that specific moment like it was yesterday—when it was, in fact, very much not yesterday—is a testament to the hold that chips have had over me from that moment on.

The thing is, chips are the ultimate snack and whoever invented them deserves statues erected in their honor. It's a bold statement, I know, but hear me out. First, they're portable and therefore perfect for just about any occasion from picnics and soccer games to road trips, Bachelor binges on the couch, and even parties (see toddler above). They're also available everywhere, in the aisles of the grocery store (and dangerously, at checkout), in your office vending machine, as a side at your casual lunch spot, even somewhat famously mid-air on a JetBlue flight. But perhaps the most important point of all, the sheer variety of chips out there makes them unbeatable in terms of snacking.

Before I get into the vast world of chips, it's important to ask, what exactly is a chip? When you think of chips, your mind likely goes to thinly sliced and fried potatoes. But if that's where your definition stops, that's a little exclusionary in my opinion. I define chips as any sort of salty, crunchy, prepackaged snack that lives in the chip aisle and doesn't belong to another snack category. After all, there aren't separate aisles for potato chips, Cheetos, and Pirate's Booty; they live in harmony in the same section of the grocery store, and share textural characteristics. With this definition in mind, it's obvious that chips have a lot to offer.

The textures and shapes alone cover all of your needs. There are the classic potato chips we know and love (round-ish and flat, perfectly greasy, and satisfyingly crisp). And then more texture: wavy and lattice iterations (even crunchier, more surface for salt, a great accompaniment for dips), stalactite/mite versions like Cheetos (yes, Cheetos are chips and if they're not chips I challenge you to tell me what they are), rolls (Takis that pack a bite), veggie straws (the "healthy" alternative version to chips—let's not discriminate; it's not their fault they're veggie-adjacent), and of course puffs (little clouds of powdery goodness that are neither here nor there, so we'll include them in the family). Then, of course, there are infinite chip flavors that offer a little something for everyone. Want something savory and simple? Classic Lays or maybe Salt & Vinegar. Looking for a bit of heat? We can do Kettle Cooked Jalapeño or perhaps a bit of Hot Cheetos. How about something sweet? BBQ or Maui Sweet Onion will do the trick. Big fan of sour cream? Well, there's a version with onion and another with cheddar. And of course, we can't forget truffle-flavored chips for when you're feeling fancy. In short, there is a type of chip for everything and everyone. What other snack can say the same?

Perhaps the best thing about chips is that when you find them overseas, they often reflect the flavors of whatever part of the world you happen to be visiting, allowing you to connect with the local culture via a familiar and beloved snack. Isn't that beautiful? I love to delve into the local cuisine whenever I'm abroad, but nothing makes me feel more in tune with the place I'm visiting than when I open up a bag of their local chips. A pouch of prawn cocktail crisps—think your classic Lay's taken up a notch with some tangy cocktail sauce and the much fancier moniker for shrimp—is requisite on a train from Oxford to London. Same for a bag of Adobadas (potato chips featuring a tomato-heavy adobo flavor with a hint of spice) or Rancheritos (long rectangular corn tortilla chips dusted in a reddish-brown mix of spices) whenever you're strolling through the streets of Mexico. Of course, you can't go to Canada without trying Ketchup Chips, but I go a bag further and prefer All Dressed (a mix of ketchup, barbecue, and salt and vinegar—perfect if you're like me and want all the flavors at once). I've had lovely squid-flavored chips in Japan and Paprika Lays in Abu Dhabi. I'm already hungry for what I'll find on my upcoming trip to Colombia. When 2021 Best New Chef Paola Velez and I talked about travel, we agreed on this key point: Chip travel is the best kind of travel.

Even though I eat in great restaurants around the world, that young girl who first dipped her toe into the world of the crunchy snack has grown into a full-fledged fanatic who will never pass up a chance to munch on some chip or other. This means that chips are what my friends bring me as souvenirs of their travels, and my parents and in-laws keep my favorites stocked. I have to temper my consumption; I love chips so much that I don't keep them in my house unless it's a special occasion. Otherwise, they would be gone in an instant and I'd slowly devolve into a chip and air-filled pouch myself. I love chips so much that every year I give them up for Lent because not eating chips at all is my ultimate sacrifice. That photo you see at the top of the article? I had to sit there and watch all of those chips cascading down into a bowl without touching a single one because I told God I wouldn't. And man, was it painful.

Since I've gone on and on about chips and how much I adore them, perhaps you're wondering about my favorites. I love them all equally, but these are the ones I would want on a desert island, in no particular order:

  • Original Lays* (can't go wrong with a classic)
  • Cheetos Flamin' Hot with Limón (my ability to find them has become a litmus test for how good a state is)
  • Limón Lays* (zesty, vibrant, full of life)
  • Zapp's Voodoo Heat (a sweet and sour chip with a kick from Jalapeño and a strong emphasis on vinegar that results in the reigning kettle-cooked flavor)
  • Ruffles de Queso* (they are like cheddar & sour cream chips but more cheese and zero sour cream makes them even better)
  • Walker's Prawn Cocktail* (Taking fish and chips plus these into account shows the Brits really know how to do seafood and potatoes)

Finally, since this is Food & Wine and we are in the business of giving you recipes and food tips, I'll leave you with this suggestion: Add hot sauce to your chips. Yes, really. It's common practice in Mexico to douse your chips with hot sauce for a little extra oomph and since I started my chip journey there, this practice is canon for me. I prefer Valentina hot sauce, but Cholula works in a pinch. Of course, I don't eat all my chips with hot sauce but I typically add it to the ones that aren't already spicy*. I know it's hard to believe that something so good could ever be improved, but it turns out hot sauce is that magic ingredient that can make what is already the most perfect snack even better.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles