Photo courtesy of Lay’s Thailand
I spend a lot of time eating my way around Queens, in New York City, a borough where a subway fare card might as well be a passport. We’ve got Thai food, Szechuan food, Indian food, Japanese food, and Georgian food (the country, not the state). Name a nation: It’s repped in Queens.
Recently I was wandering an aisle of Sugar Club, a Thai market and snack emporium in Elmhurst, one of the borough’s biggest Thai enclaves, when I chanced upon a whole new selection of potato chips from Lay’s Thailand.
Because Lay’s Thailand makes some of the tastiest potato chips ever, I was intrigued—especially because the packaging looked decidedly non-Thai.
Instead of typical Thai iconography such as a Muay Thai fighter potato, these chip bags were different. One bore a picture of the Union Jack next to Stonehenge and a sliced ham. Another was emblazoned with the Mexican flag and an Aztec pyramid.
What was going on here?
Photo courtesy of Lay’s Thailand
Turns out the chips are part of a campaign called Lay’s World Wonders, a contest featuring the worldly chip quartet that launched in October of last year and ended two months later. Rather than design their own flavors (as happened stateside), contestants voted to decide the tastiest “World Wonder” flavor, choosing among China, Mexico, England, and Italy.
Lays Thailand’s chips have been available at Thai markets here for quite some time. And although the “World Wonder” chip contest was in Thailand, I was surprised to see these oddball flavors alongside their more traditional cousins.
Typically Lay’s Thailand chips channel the culinary culture of that nation. Think: Hot and Spicy Crab and Meng Kum Pla. The former packs a wallop of chili-laced maritime flavor, and the latter neatly recalls the popular drinking snack of lime, chili, dried baby shrimp, and ginger wrapped in betel leaves.
Clearly a World Wonder taste test was in order, so my hopes were high when I gave these a whirl. I ranked each on a scale of 1-5, with “5″ indicating a chip experience nonpareil.
Stonehenge-flavored potato chips. Photo: Joe DiStefano
It’s unclear why Lay’s Thailand chose to associate ham and mustard with British foodways. Perhaps they had never heard of steak-and-kidney pie or Cornish pasties. These chips resembled a standard American Lay’s chip except for one aspect: They tasted profoundly of ham and mustard. And that smoky, salty, porcine flavor and mustardy aroma kept me coming back for more. Britain won the hearts and minds of Thailand, snagging 7,074,605 votes. Incredibly, the Thai potato chip take on British food was more flavorful than many of the UK’s “British” flavored potato chips, such as Walkers roast chicken. Tastiness score: 3.
Nothing says “Mexican food” quite like this. Photo: Joe DiStefano
Moving on to the chips of “Mexico,” I discovered a bag emblazoned with a Mayan pyramid, a burnished roast chicken, a couple of stray chile peppers, and a bowl of rather dubious-looking salsa. I braced for a chicken-y twist on chips and salsa, but instead found that the ridged potato chips tasted of red and green bell peppers with just the barest hint of chiles. I would have preferred smoky chipotle peppers or even a chocolate-tinged mole poblano flavor to this oddly vegetal snack, which was were my least favorite. Folks in Thailand hated them, too, as they came in last with 2,547,637 votes. Tastiness score: 2.
Rome’s iconic Colosseum… and some Swiss cheese. Photo: Joe DiStefano
Italy’s World Wonder is the Roman Colosseum, so its cameo on the bag made sense. The block of Swiss cheese on the bag? Not so much. Not Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano, but Swiss cheese. Salty and cheesy, these ridged chips weren’t half-bad, tasting a bit like sour cream and onion chips without the onion. Folks in Thailand apparently agreed; the chips garnered 4,596,9325 votes to land second place. Tastiness score: 3.
China is represented by lobster and the Great Wall. Photo: Joe DiStefano
My favorite of the Lay’s World Wonder lineup? China. The package bears a scarlet-tinted image of the Great Wall and a plate of lobster. Oceanic and crisp, these chips were quite nice, with a good heat that recalled the flavor of a seafood hotpot. A peek at the back label revealed them to be “XO lobster.” Thai junk food fiends, however, relegated them to third place, with 3,551,337 votes. Tastiness score: 4.
So—oddly for a nation known for its pungent, fishy, spicy flavors—in Thailand, good old ham and mustard took home the gold. And stateside, conversely, the Asian-tinged Wasabi-Ginger potato chips took home the $1,000,000 prize in the Lay’s contest last year.
This leaves me very hopeful for my own entry this year—the contest has just launched!—Thai Beef Jerky. And if it doesn’t win I can always go with Plan B—opening a ham sandwich hawker stand in Chiang Mai.
More taste tests!
Which of these Thai chips do you think you’d like best?