Earlier this year Lay's invited the American public to vote to keep one of three new potato chip flavors; Sriracha, Chicken & Waffles, and Cheesy Garlic Bread. Serious Eats' own Dan Souza tried them all and picked Chicken & Waffles as his favorite, but consumers chose Cheesy Garlic Bread and consigned the other flavors to limbo.
Now Canadians have their own chance to pick a chip, and they've gone one better than their neighbors to the south with four flavors to choose from, all created by members of the public. I sat down with bags of Creamy Garlic Caesar, Perogy Platter, Maple Moose, and Grilled Cheese & Ketchup, gorged on carbs, and tried to pick a favorite.
CREAMY GARLIC CAESAR
Of the four flavors in the Lay's Canada contest, this one is the least evocatively Canadian. When I think Canada and Caesar, I think of the great national cocktail of the same name, a delicious version of a Bloody Mary made with clam juice. I think that would be an amazing chip flavor, but it might be tough to simulate the kick of vodka.
This Creamy Garlic Caesar chip is inspired by the salad that originated at the other end of the US, down in Tijuana, Mexico. More accurately, it's inspired by Caesar dressing, which is creamy and garlicky by nature, or you've done something very wrong. Lay's already has a Sour Cream & Onion potato chip; this is essentially the same flavor with a fancier allium, or maybe an attempt to emulate the success of the US winner, Cheesy Garlic Bread. The garlic flavor dominates the palette, but is rounded out by a creaminess that's definitely more sour cream than Parmesan. A tasty chip, but not much of an innovation.
Canada is the world nexus of pierogi. Every Eastern European nation lays claim to these delicious half-moon dumplings, and many have huge immigrant populations in Canada, ensuring that you can't go to a street festival anywhere in the country without encountering a food truck selling pierogie, pyrogie, pirogi, or as Lay's would have it, perogy.
The name Perogy Platter indicates pierogie served with (and possibly stuffed with) bacon and green onion. Those flavors are there, but they're both quite understated, and the onion comes out on top with a passing hint of sour creaminess. I could have used a lot more bacon in the balance. Completely lost in the equation is any sense of the dumpling itself. This is definitely a moreish chip that layers on the flavor as you eat it, but it's missing that doughy warmth that makes pierogi such a perfect comfort food.
The quintessentially Canadian way to enjoy maple syrup is to eat boiled maple taffy straight off the snow. Failing that, it should be poured over ham or beans or pancakes, or the classic Quebec meat pie tourtiere.
I have never eaten it served over moose, which is the flavor this chip is meant to evoke. (It's not called Maple Moose just to be cute, though the packet has a cartoon moose on it rather than a simmering moose steak.) If this is an accurate approximation of the experience, I'm happy to avoid it. Maple Moose has some of the strong savory smack that I remember from the great beef-flavored crisps I grew up with in the UK, but it also has an acrid mustiness that's just unpleasant.
What's baffling about Maple Moose is that it doesn't make great use of maple flavor. There's some sweetness in the tail, but it's not the complex woody sweetness of real maple. A straight maple syrup chip—or a maple syrup tourtiere chip—might have been more interesting. The packaging tells us that the inventor of this flavor hails from Isle aux Morts in Newfoundland. That translates as "Island of the Dead." Perhaps a name to avoid on packaging in the future.
GRILLED CHEESE & KETCHUP
This flavor has a possible advantage over its rivals. Ketchup chips occupy an important place in Canadian culture, because the flavor debuted in Canada and for a long time wasn't available in the US. Hyper-tangy and covered in finger-staining red coloring, ketchup chips became a national institution.
Grilled Cheese & Ketchup looks to build on that reputation by stirring in the flavor of something else Canadians adore: grilled cheese sandwiches. The result takes two radioactive flavors and mutes them down to a chip that barely changed the color of my fingertips at all! This is a milder cheese; a tamer tomato. The tang is still there, and with it a little of that comforting Kraft cheese slice artifice, but it's not a showstopper. A decent chip that I'd crush underfoot to get to a bag of ketchup chips.
On first impression, I thought the Creamy Garlic Ceasar would be my favorite. The flavor is robust and distinctive, and probably the closest approximation of the food it's inspired by. However, after an honestly shameful amount of munching, it was the Perogy Platter that I kept coming back to. It has a much milder flavor up front, but the buttery, lip-smacking quality builds and builds. If I was hanging out with friends, the bowl of Perogy Platter is the one my hand would keep dipping back into.