After a month of noodle quest delights, I had to maintain my sodium levels somehow, so turned my attention to the cheapo salty snacks of my youth.
These are now mainly to be found in small independent newsagent shops and revel in the monicker “coonsil crisps”.
I’ve summarised my findings in a graphic over on Instagram, but for those who appreciate a fuller explanation, here’s what I discovered in the order that I ate.
Chipsticks – Salt n vinegar
These crunchy corn snacks definitely evoked memories of childhood. I would definitely have favoured the ready salted ahead of the salt n vinegar as a child, but these definitely felt extremely familiar. I recall the vinegar as being a touch more aggressively mouth-puckering but the texture – a sort of grainy shard-like quality – remained. My fingers were pleasingly coated on grainy residue at the end, making the final finger-licking triumph entirely glorious. I am a fan and these were a good place to start.
Fish n chips
Another that I remember from the school tuck shop – a term that probably gives away both my vintage and that I went to posh school – fish n chips are probably a slight outlier in the cheapo crisp canon in that the little fish and chip shaped items are like little cracker biscuits. The classic salty and vinegar flavours were there as I remembered them, but they were a good deal sweeter than I recall, a product of their biscuity texture, I guess. Consequently, there was no shortage of flavour going on. I enjoyed them.
I remember Frazzles as well, although perhaps not quite so fondly, as I recall many a bacony burp as these corn snack rashers used to repeat on my something chronic. This time I didn’t have such belchy issues, but I didn’t overly enjoy the experience. Their texture led to extensive sticking to teeth, which meant a complex tooth-picking aftermath. I’m not sure that tidy up was really offset by a quality culinary experience.
Cheetos – cheese
I was deffo a Wotsits person, as a youth, so I’m not convinced I’d previously tried Cheetos. They are along similar lines to previously experienced cheese puffs but with a slightly more irregular texture. Flavour had an odd and fairly pervasive sour dairy note, like sour cream, with only a little cheesiness towards the end. I don’t think I enjoyed these much.
Spicy Bikers were completely new to me. But upon inspection, they were a fairly familiar corn snack idea, somewhat reminiscent of Monster Munch. They didn’t pack much appeal, though, as the spicy flavour was mainly just sweet and vinegary. They weren’t the freshest crunch, either. Quite poor.
Funyuns were again new to me, although the brand is fairly pervasive in the US. These were quite familiar onion ring snacks. They were OK, if a little underwhelming.
Space Raiders pickled onion
When this quest was first suggested, my first thought was of Space Raiders. They are an icon of cheapo/coonsil crisps and I remember them fondly from hangovers of my twenties, mainly. These were entirely better than the previous two slightly lukewarm snacks. These had a really pleasing edge of pickle and a good, fresh crunch. In many ways, they define this genre for me.
Ah, the classic bacon flavour wheat crunchy. These were a childhood favourite and this reacquaince stood up very well to the nostalgic version. They are deeply crunchy, making a good deal of inter-cranial noise. I’m a fan.
Nik Naks – nice n spicy, rib n sauce
Nik Naks are another cult favourite of the genre. They are probably most noteworthy for their nobbly texture, which I enjoyed. As with the Spicy Bikers, the spicy flavour was mainly a sweet vinegary thing, rather than aromatics or real fire. They didn’t quite hit the high spots I’d hoped they might. Accordingly, I gave another of their flavours, the Rib n Sauce. They were excellent and deffo my preferred Nik Nak flavour.
Mini cheddars – original
Mini Cheddars are another classic. In more recent times, I associate with train travel as a staple on long journeys. They are biscuity and a little sweet, but with good cheesiness to them. I enjoyed reacquainting myself with these classic snacks.
Hula hoops – original
Another old fave is the Hula Hoop. These potato rings evoke memories of placing them on tiny fingers to be eaten by consecutively crunching them off, eight at a time (fat thumbs prohibited decimalisation). The current packaging proclaimed various slightly alarming things like an absence of MSG, that most tasty bringer of umami goodness. I don’t know if they ever had MSG in the mix, but with this doubt placed in mind, I couldn’t help think that they lack a little something, both in flavour and crunch. I was a little disappointed, as a result.
Baked Crinklys – cheese n onion
I do not recall Baked Crinklys so suspect they are a recent (at least by my standards) arrival. These felt a little out of place in this exercise, as they felt a bit posh. A pot of hummus wouldn’t have gone amiss to dip them in, for example. I really liked them, but they definitely felt beyond the scope of coonsil crisps consideration.
Monster Munch – roast beef, pickled onion
Another titan of the field, Monster Munch reminds me strongly of monstrous TV adverts of the 1980s. I tried two flavours as part of my munching: roast beef; and pickled onion. The former were a complete non-event, but the pickled onion ones were excellent. We had the teeth-sticking issues that all corn snacks seem to present for me, but otherwise they were an absolute joy.
Skips – prawn cocktail
My aunt used to buy me Skips when I was very wee. They were a notable highlight of my youth. In more recent years, I was lucky enough to persuade the folks at the Last Word Saloon to make a “prawn cocktail” featuring Skips-infused gin. It was a remarkable concoction. I had this latest bag on my way home from the pub and it contributed positively to my wellbeing the next day. They’re a splendid snack.
Frisps – cheese n onion
I don’t really remember Frisps, so they were in the realms of an unexpected pleasure. Their crunch was particularly good, with a combo of wheat and potato giving a really satisfying texture.
Discos – salt n vinegar
Discos are another item that evokes misty eyed nostalgia, again mainly from the hungover days of my twenties. I was a little disappointed by their texture on this sampling, as the were just a little stodgy, particularly in comparison with the Frisps. They’re still a great snack that I’ll regularly come back to, though.
Squares – salt n vinegar
I recall square crisps with great fondness. Previously Smiths Square Crisps, they are now under the Walkers brand. They retain much of their original appeal.
Doritos – chilli heatwave
Not a snack I would consider as part of this genus, nevertheless Doritos appeared in the same section and similarly priced to other snacks, so I ga e them a go. I tried the chilli heatwave and they conveyed a little bit of spice tingle on top of the characteristic version of spicy which in crisp land means sweet and vinegary. Texturally, these are a corn chip with a slightly synthetic feel. They were decent enough, though.
Johnny’s onion rings, bacon rings, spicy rings
Johnny’s Rings were fairly problematic. Firstly, their logo evokes a fairly outmoded stereotype of the French onion salesman for no particularly clear reason. Secondly, these were by far the most aggressively salty snack I’d sampled to date. The onion flavour felt a bit fake, too. The bacon ones were OK but again v salty and had that Frazzle belch effect I thought I’d put behind me. The spicy ones were a very pleasant surprise though with much better balance of flavour. They would be my choice from the Johnny’s range.
Ah, good old Wotsits. The cornerstone snack of much cheese dust finger joy, Wotsits have been a perennial favourite. Their lightly puffed corn snack appeal remains undiminished. I enjoyed them very much.
I recall Quavers very fondly from childhood and when confronted with crispy pig skin in restaurant I always remark, “ooh, posh Quavers”. Possibly that has had an impact on my recollection as these struck me as very far from the childhood version. Firstly, I have no recollection of the cheese flavour being anywhere near as prominent. Secondly, the texture was much less bubbly and irregular than I remember. Perhaps time has eroded clarity, but of all the childhood nostalgia trips, this felt furthest from its original destination.
Roysters – T-Bone Steak flavour
I’m not sure exactly what makes a steak flavour crisp T–bone steak as opposed to any other cut, but these Roysters bubbly crisps were fairly decent. The meaty flavour was discernibly meaty although it tasted slightly synthetic. These were a solid offering.
Transform-a-snack – cheese n onion, spicy
The Transform-a-snack range allow you to fashion a rudimentary cock and balls from corny potato pieces before chowing down on the genatalian goodness. The spicy was that all-too-familiar blend of sour and sugar, but the cheese n onion was a little better. Oh, and they are potentially supposed to be cars or robots or something, so are entirely suitable for social occasions as long as you don’t invite me.
Bobby’s spirals, onion rings, BBQ rib
Bobby’s Spirals were very much what I had in mind when this challenge was first suggested. They’re strongly vinegary, oddly shaped, and very much what I want to eat while drinking pints of Big Juicy. Would recommend. Their onion rings were decent but not to the same standard and the same can be said for their Wotsit-like sticky BBQ rib flavoured ones.
Ringos – salt n vinegar
Ringos are another classic ring corn snack. They were absolutely outstanding with excellent light crunch and really piquant acidity. They might just about have been my overall favourite.
Tangy Toms were entirely new to me. They featured balls of tangy tomato corn snackage. They were much lighter and crisper than expected, but they were surprisingly greasy. Where you would usually expect a mess of corn dust at the bottom of the bag, these featured an oil residue. Weird but oddly satisfying.
Saucers – sour cream and onion
Saucers were completely new to me, perhaps due to recent emergence or my ignorance of their existence prior to now. They proved interesting with their lattice-work puff-ball shape and good creamy onion flavour. These were towards the upper end of snack goodness.
And that was that. What next for savoury snack sampling do you think?