I usually seek out weird and regrettable things to eat in fast food chains, but seeing as it’s nearly St. Patrick’s Day, I decided to give Irish junk food a go. I’m sure all of the chips, candy bars and soda I’m about to discuss are available to order online, but where’s the labor-intensive fun in that? I made a trip out to Sunnyside in Queens (NYC) to hit up The Butcherblock for all my imported Irish needs. That’s actually the main reason this is a Sad Girl Taste Test and not a regular Taste Test – they had plenty of good, normal Irish food that I could’ve purchased, but instead I blew $37 on pickled onion-flavored snacks. OH WELL! (I’ll definitely be going back, but likely not for ye olde crisps ‘n soft drinks.)
So where to begin? I guess we’ll start with overall observations. One thing is the aforementioned pickled onion flavor. This seems to be the most popular variety that I could tell, although they did make a valiant effort to replicate the spicy American phenomenon that is Flamin’ Hot Cheetos in their monster-themed corn snacks. Also, there are a lot of empty promises.
And before any of you go apeshit over the fact that some of these snacks are not specific to Ireland, and are indeed available in the UK and elsewhere, take a deep breath because I already know! But guess what? I am not trying to make multiple trips to Queens to sample the cuisine of white people, so this was a one-stop shopping venture, and you’re just gonna have to deal with it!
NOW. For the taste test. Let’s begin with the chips. I was immediately curious to find out why pickled onion was so beloved. Upon having tasted it, I have come to the conclusion that it just gives off a slightly funkier salt ‘n vinegar vibe. Being a non-fan of salt ‘n vinegar, my immediate instinct was to throw all of these packets in the garbage. But I just moved on to another flavor instead – Guinness. I must say, the chips themselves did not look particularly inviting as they were covered in what appeared to be cocoa powder. But maybe the taste would sway me otherwise! Haha SIKE! They were not good. To be fair, they did taste like Guinness. But why would you eat non-alcoholic Guinness when you could just drink alcoholic Guinness? And eat regular potato chips that won’t stain your hands with brown dust?
The only good chips I tasted were the cheese and onion (non-pickled variety) ones by Tayto (which is a hilarious name), which were also the only ones that went the extra mile to write out a Gaelic translation on the package. (Do people genuinely only speak Gaelic in certain parts of Ireland? And if so, are cheese and onion Tayto chips their snack of choice?)
Mmm…Brioscain Phratai Faoi Bhlas Caise & Oinniuin is fearr liom!
But that’s not to say Mr. Tayto (who is like a fatter, starchier Mr. Peanut) is an all-around chip genius. The prawn cocktail flavor was incredibly perplexing. This is not even remotely similar to Asian prawn crackers, which was actually a relief since I was bracing myself for the worst re: open bag aroma. There was barely any smell at all, and the taste…the taste was salty and sweet? I mean, yeah, that kind of sums up shrimp, but I got zero seafood vibes at all from the flavor.
Meanwhile, the brand (which is apparently HQ’d in a castle in Northern Ireland, so typical) failed miserably in its hot & spicy Mighty Munch, aka a ripoff of Monster Munch; it goes without saying that Irish people have no business dictating what is spicy and what is not spicy. These corn puff snacks were yogurt level spicy. (They ALSO tasted like pickled onion whatever the fuck despite no indication of that on the packaging. WHY.)
The actual Monster Munch packets similarly disappointed in their total failure at pulling off Flamin’ Hot (more like Flamin’ Not), and while I still am not a fan of pickled onion flavor, I will say that the Mega Meanies (Largo’s knockoff of Monster Munch, made right in Ireland-Ireland in what I assume is a non-castle) tasted, to me, the very best out of all the varieties I tried. Also, the package had the least friendly-looking monster as its mascot, which I appreciated.
The main conclusion I made from the chips portion of the taste test is that people who are boozing in pubs will eat literally anything you put in front of them, so nothing really matters anyway.
I was feeling mad parched as a result of all that goddamn salt, so I moved into soda territory next.
I pounded an IRN BRU last night since I had consumed too much coffee throughout the day and was up until 3am doing work. IRN BRU is famous to Scotland, and I have had it before, so I don’t feel too much need to rehash it here. (If you really want to know, though, it has 34g of sugar in one 11floz can, and it tastes like cream soda for rocket ships.) So what I had left to choose from was Ben Shaws Dandelion & Burdock (product of the UK), Pineapple & Grapefruit Lilt (product of the UK), Club Rock Shandy (product of the UK), and McDaids Banana and “Football Special”, both products of Ireland. I started with the Football Special because what even the fuck does that mean. From what I can gather re: the packaging, it’s McDaids trying to solve the problem of Irish alcoholism through a flatter-feeling cream soda. Not great, and definitely not something that’d inspire one to leave the booze.
I also tried the banana and oh my god wow no. I’m not even a dickhead who hates banana flavored things, but leave it to pale people to really ruin the magic of tropical fruits. Actually, I don’t want to make it seem like Lilt didn’t nail the pineapple and grapefruit situation, because it totally did. It was like a fruitier 7-Up or something, and I would for sure drink it again. The surprising winner of the bunch was Ben Shaws Dandelion & Burdock. I don’t think I’ve consciously eaten dandelion or burdock before, so I can’t say whether or not this does either flavor justice, but there is definitely an herbal after-kick that happens, and it’s really nice with the cola flavor. I feel like this would rule as a cocktail base, but it’s also great plain. We also can’t forget about good ol’ Club Rock Shandy, which is very nostalgic for me since I drank it all the time as a kid, and (as predicted) is still like if Orangina and Sunny D had a really cool and good baby.
Jesus is this goddamn taste test over yet. No. No it isn’t, because now we have to seal the poor life choices deal with chocolate. These are all available throughout the UK, but I have not tried any of these particular Cadbury varieties before, so HERE WE ARE. I will say, this was a welcome break from the chips, which were still lingering post-soda. I started with Shortcake Snack, which are thin little squares of shortbread covered in chocolate. Not bad, but also too dry for my liking. You sort of expect it to be like a Kit-Kat in terms of its consistency, but no. Still shortbread. Same goes for the Sandwich Snack, which is pretty much the same, but in a thicker bar configuration. I liked it a little better than the Shortcake Snack, just because it felt like it had a better chocolate-to-shortbread ratio, but still not something I’d traverse the five boroughs to obtain again. And then there was Picnic, which was sort of like Nutrageous but not as good. It has raisins, peanuts, caramel and crispy cereal beneath the chocolate exterior, but despite all the different elements, it just was sort of one-note to me. Womp womp.
In addition to everything listed above, I also bought a loaf of Irish soda bread (the good kind, that’s like…sliced and has a good crumb and is not overly sweet) and a jar of Maltesers chocolate spread, but I actually feel like I’m going to die, so I’m not going to sit here and eat a whole bunch of that so you can live vicariously. Sorry. Looking out for number one here.
Anyway, the moral of this story is that, as we stand here in the midst of these 2018 trash fires, I feel bummed out that my ancestors ever left Ireland for a lot of reasons. But snacks are not one of them. If you are in NYC, I do think it’s worth a trip out to The Butcherblock, because it’s got plenty of stuff from the UK (and a great butcher) that appear to be less pricey than what you might find at Myers of Keswick in the West Village. Plus, real live Irish people go there to shop, and I have crushes on all of them. (Three were in front of me in line yesterday, and all kept saying things like “It was class, man,” and I very seriously considered extending each one a sham marriage proposal for the purposes of their green card happiness and my temporary delusional happiness! But let’s be real, who is even trying to live in America right now that has someplace like Ireland to go home to.) I would say that unless you like a not good version of already bad salt ‘n vinegar chips, then skip pickled onion anything. Also, do not believe anything that claims to be spicy. It won’t be. Do go with tried and true Cadbury and Mars candy varieties, and leave Snack and Picnic behind. And say yes to things like shandy and dandelion & burdock sodas, but generally err on the side of caution when it comes to most of their tropical fruit flavors. It’s IRELAND, you guys. Let’s just call a spade a spade.