05 July 2012

On chipping away at the potato-munching mindset

There are all kinds of chips.  We have computer chips, wood chips, chips off the old block, chips on the shoulder and so on. And of course chips that one munches, the kind that you just can’t stop at one because the first chip makes you want another. And another. And yet another. 

Ask people what they would associate with ‘chip’ and I am sure that apart from the above-mentioned chips, many would mention ‘potatoes’.  I won’t blame them.  The chip-industry is quite powerful.  And they know their onions and this includes ‘flavouring’. ‘Betcha you can’t eat just one’ is a slogan that has worked for Frito-Lay potato chips for close to half a century.  For a long time I thought that Fritos, Doritos, Ruffles, Cheetos and of course the celebrated Frito-Lay with that ‘can’t eat just one’ tagline were not just different products and brands but owned by different companies.  Turns out that they are all owned by PepsiCo Inc since 1965.

The history is interesting. ‘Lay’s’ owes name to Herman W Lay, a salesman who in 1932 opened a snack food operation in Nashville, Tennessee (USA).  Six years later he purchased a potato chip manufacturing outfit called Barrett Food Company’.  For four years he sold chips all over the Southern part of the USA from the trunk of his car. At the time the tagline was ‘So crisp you can hear the freshness’.  This was followed by the rather corny, ‘de-Lay-scious!’  Almost twenty years later, i.e. in 1961 Lay’s merged with the Frito Co., founded by Elmer Doolin.  That’s how Frito-Lay came into being.  In 1965, Frito-Lay merged with Pepsi Cola to form PepsiCo Inc.  They control, I understand, 59% of the US savoury food market. 

When I think ‘chips’, however, I think of Ariyaseela Wickramanayaka.  It goes back to an interview with him about a year and a half ago.  Predictably, he spoke about self-reliance, resource endowment and other things that make independence and sovereignty a reasonable proposition (i.e. outside of rhetoric and legal/constitutional assertion).  And he spoke of chips and offered me (and the photographer who accompanied me) some.  Not made of potato.  Del.  Bread-fruit.  Home-made.  No additives.  Impossible to eat just one.

I am not anti-potato by the way.  Potato in the ala-hodi (potato curry) sense and ala thel daala (‘devilled’ potatoes) sense are as Sri Lankan as anything else. It’s something foreign that we’ve adopted and adapted.  I do have problems with issue of soil erosion associated with potato cultivation, though.  I also have a problem with the fact that we have better root crops and tubers than potatoes to curry, boil, chip and even devil that can be grown in most gardens but are not, more out of ignorance than anything else. I am thinking about innala (ratala), kiriala, rajala, bathala, manioc (another ‘nativised’ root), kondala, buthsarana, katu-ala, hulang keeriya, kohila, hingurala, kidaaram and over 100 others I know exist but have not had the luxury to grow or taste (yes, thanks to my ignorance). 

One of my earliest memories is avurudu, 1970 or 1971.  Or maybe even 1969.  It was an early morning neketha (auspicious time).  We were in Kurunegala, at my maternal grandparents’ house.  The table was full of kevili (sweetmeats), I remember.  I assume there was kavum, kokis, aasmi, dosi and other traditional sweets, but I can’t remember.  All I remember is a long dish with something that appeared to have the texture of kiribath (milk-rice).  It was purple in colour.  Raajala (Raja-Ala or King Yam), boiled, sweetened.  To this day, that is the best desert I’ve ever tasted. 

It is good to know your onions, as they say.  Good to know about chips.  Better still, to know your yams.  Knowledge is not just power, it is delicacy, nutrition, food security, and massive savings at household, regional and national levels. Good to chip away at a lot of things that have been dumped into our country and our minds.  I like to munch on manioc chips for instance.  Home-grown. Locally made.  I can’t eat just one.   


Lalindra said...

Fried Del (Bread-Fruit) is a delicacy. Fried Del in hardened honey or sugar is irresistible. So is fried Manioc chips. The problem is none have come forward to do mass scale production and distribution.

Ramzeen Azeez said...

I'm with you on the raj-ala or raasa valli kelengu in Tamil (Raasa as in king. I liked the "sneaky" way in which you lured me/us into reading your piece ;-). Way to go!