General Tso's Chips from Target: Wait, What?

A reflection on Things That Taste Like Other Things.

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[Photographs: Robyn Lee]

While shopping at Target this week, one item caught my eye: the General Tso's potato chips.

Take the flavor of a Chinese-American favorite and roll it into a chip—how does this rank among Things That Taste Like Other Things? Doritos is ahead on this trend—their Rihanna-branded All-Nighter Cheeseburger chips taste like crunchy McDonald's burgers. Pringles has played the late-night-craving card with Mozzarella Stick and Marinara-flavores, not to mention the decades-long trend of pizza-flavored snacks.

Why couldn't we just settle for mozzarella chips instead of Mozzarella Stick-flavored chips? Target also sells hazelnut biscotti granola instead of just hazelnut granola—is the "biscotti"really adding much? Do we love the thrill of the hunt of perfectly mingling two foods? Or is it the imagination of the second flavor, the one you have to squint to really find, the one that will make us say, A HA! That's it! They've really done it this time!

It's one thing for healthy food to moonlight as something else. Think 100-calorie packs. Countless low-fat, low-calorie diet foods try to sell themselves as something more decadent. Then you have faux meat products aiming to be just like the real stuff. But where does junk food flavored like other junk food fit into all of this? It has no reason to exist other than pure enjoyment, right? I like eating both of these things, so their sum should be awesomer than their parts, right?

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Well, not exactly. In the end, it's more the imagination of eating General Tso's Chicken that makes the experience of eating it in chip-form both interesting enough to shell out $2.99 for, and simultaneously so unappealing after the first bite I spent the rest of the week trying to give them away.

The thing is, the flavor's all there (way to go food scientists) but what makes General Tso's so appealing is the texture of the gloppy sauce on the deep-fried chicken tenders. Crispy, greasy, and salty-sweet. Everything I love about General Tso's chicken is absent from the chip, simply because it was a chip and not a steaming bowl of chicken over rice.

At best, Things That Taste Like Other Things are interesting—a novelty, only valuable to Target shoppers like me. Can you think of other TTTLOT?

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