For all of the attention Japan gets for its culinary contributions such as sushi and tempura, precious little credit is given to the way the country is always willing to push the envelope of salty snacks. Walk into any convenience store in the country, and you’ll find shelf after shelf stuffed with rice crackers, assorted nuts, and most of all, potato chips.
Recently, snack maker Calbee unleashed its newest flavor: KFC Colonel’s Crispy Potato Chips, and despite having never been to Kentucky, I knew it was my solemn duty to eat them.
Like many uniquely-flavored snacks in Japan, Calbee’s KFC potato chips are only available for a limited time. Thankfully, due to the combined clout of the two companies behind them, they’re easy to track down, and I found several bags waiting for me at the 7-Eleven down the street from my apartment.
▼ The Colonel’s Crispy chips in their natural environment
Smiling at me from the front of the bag was Colonel Sanders himself (or Uncle Kentucky, as he’s more commonly known in Japan). Gold lettering announces “The secret ingredients are garlic and soy sauce,” and while the package designers may need to double check the meaning of the word “secret,” I think the last time I was saddened by the presence of garlic was well before I was an embryo.
Fully ready to tear into the bag, my wife stopped me to point out the generosity contained on the back: a coupon for 30 yen (US$0.30) off a piece of Colonel’s Crispy chicken at KFC restaurants, valid until March 23. Not bad, KFC, not bad!
▼ Remember, the more chips you eat, the more you save!
With no more economic gains to be found on the package, it was time to get this taste test started.
The bag contained a generous amount of chips, especially considering its 148 yen price tag (or 118 yen, subtracting the value of the much-appreciated coupon). Opening the bag filled the room with a strong potato aroma, although not so much one that reminded us of fried chicken.
The chips themselves are evenly cooked, on the crispy side but completely free of any burnt patches. I grabbed one and took a bite, looking forward to the always pleasing sensation of deep-fried bird.
Unfortunately, the taste didn’t have the impact that I’d expected. The Colonel’s Crispy chips exhibit an unusual shifting flavor profile. Initially, they taste like regular potato chips. Next, there’s a sudden burst of flavor more evocative of fried chicken breading than the actual meat itself. Finally, there’s a mild garlic finish.
The chips don’t taste bad at all, but the all too quick transitions in flavor mean that none of them are on the palate long enough to make much of a lasting impression. The only way to do justice to the three-staged flavor of the Colonel’s Crispy chips was with a three-staged taste test, and so we moved into stage two of the project.
These chips required the proper accompanying beverage, and clearly there was no better choice than the Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey Maker’s Mark.
Compared to other potato chips, the KFC version is pretty low in oil, and could even be called a bit dry. Mixed with the lingering moisture from the bourbon though, the chips achieved a pleasing moisture in the mouth. The combination even helped bring out more of the garlic flavor while imparting a pleasant smokiness to it.
Emboldened by the improvement shown so far, we moved on to stage three of the plan: visual entertainment.
If you’re not going anywhere for a while (and trust us, if you’ve been drinking bourbon and eating garlic potato chips, nobody wants to see or smell you in public), we recommend tossing in a Blu-ray of Kentucky-set crime drama Justified. Like a threat of violence delivered in a Southern drawl, the mix of lightly flavored potato chips and smooth yet strong bourbon is hard to beat.
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KFC has its own potato chips in Japan!