Thursday, January 19, 2012

Childhood in a bag

Scampi Fries, to be found occasionally in corner grocery shops and mini-mart garages, but naturally occurring behind the bars of pubs, hanging from the back of the door on a cardboard sheet, are one of the supreme luxuries of life.
Never having eaten scampi in my life, I can only speculate as to the extent to which they actually taste like these almost unbelievably delicious little cereal pillows, designed to recreate their complex, evolved flavour by purely chemical means.
But I find it hard to believe that anything in the natural world can be as satisfying, let alone something that has to be dragged out of the sea and killed first.
The flavour of the Scampi Fry to me, therefore, is not imitative but unique, to be judged not on the grounds of how accurately it duplicates the taste of something else but on the grounds of sheer inventiveness.
And on those grounds: how can it not delight?

I can remember where I was the first time I tried one, and - despite a cautious reticence upon which I can now only look back and smile - how instantly and completely they claimed me as a devotee.
I remember I had a copy of Scream comic with me at the time. Well, Scream comic is long gone, but the Scampi Fry marches boldly on, even as nations crumble and ideologies clash; it is, as Sherlock Holmes once described Watson, with an admiration equally applicable in this context, one fixed point in a changing world.

But the best thing about Scampi Fries is that they are not generally available, not guaranteed to be found in every corner shop, like those dreary usurping Walker's crisps (that through sheer market saturation and aggressive advertising pushed the infinitely subtler flavours of Golden Wonder, Smiths and, my favourite of all, KP out of the general crisp market and into the specialist nut and snack hinterlands.)
Scampi Fries are rarer, and so always a treat. They have always had a vaguely holidayish, special occasiony quality to them for me.
I suspect their magic would wear off if I had regular access to them, and so I note with joy and trepidation mixed that the Spar at the end of my road stocks them, along with their Son and Holy Ghost: Bacon Fries and Cheese Moments.

Loving Cheese Moments puts you in a truly discerning minority. How they have survived so long is a delightful mystery: nobody could love them more than I, and even I have no trouble appreciating why almost everyone finds them so totally disgusting.
The Moment can be seen as a response to the sole design challenge posed by the Scampi Fry. While the exterior of the Scampi Fry is far too delicious for this to ever be a disappointment as such, first-timers may be nonetheless surprised to discover on their initial crunch that it is hollow. The Moment solves this conundrum in the most ingenious of ways. It is fashioned, like the Fry, as a cereal pouch, tasting this time not of fish but of a strange, potent but fictitious cheese, somewhere between Gruyere and marmite. But this time, on crunching, the delighted consumer encounters not empty space but a bizarre, cheese-effect paste. The contrast between the crunchy exterior and soft interior is a most seductive one.
Moments go very nicely with red wine, whereas the Scampi Fry is best washed down with a lovely cold Chablis.

Did you know you can buy Scampi Fries on Amazon? Here's the link, and just look at the sincerity and passion in those customer reviews! I especially like the one from the army wife who can't stop eating them even though her husband refuses to kiss her after she's had a bag.

(In a possible follow-up post - The flavour sensation that is the Barry Norman pickled onion: how many can you consume at a sitting?)