This article has been updated to remove the author's initial hyperbolic and offensive reaction to the chips' flavor.
The first time I heard about South Korea's super-popular honey-butter potato chips was at Oiji, a Korean restaurant in the East Village. I remember taking a taste of house-made potato chips coated in a honey-butter glaze with chili powder and at first not getting it. And then I proceeded to eat another, and another, and another until not one single shard was left. Such is their mystical magic.
To my tastebuds, these chips belong to a small and divisive group of foods that manage to successfully walk the line of excess by unrestrainedly playing on our most basic cravings for salt, sugar, and/or fat.* The combination of honey with salted potato chips, for instance, strikes that wonderful sweet-salty note so many of us love, in the most loud way possible. The butter, meanwhile, coats chips that have already been deep fried. And...it's...so...good.
While it's a completely different substance, I would put Marmite in the same category: it delivers a deafeningly powerful umami and salty blast without any attempt at moderation. I'd hate its extracted yeasty intensity, if only some primeval part of my brain didn't love it so much.
In Korea, the craze started as a fun flavor in packaged chips—it's worth watching a video or two to get an idea of both the obsession and confounded reactions the chips prompted. With demand way outstripping supply, people started making their own versions at home and posting the videos online. The incredible thing is that even when tossed in moist butter and honey, instead of the powdered coating of the mass-market version, the chips somehow manage to retain their crunch.
In the simplest version, salted potato chips are simply tossed with melted butter and honey, which is what most online videos show. At Oiji, they add a touch of brown sugar and cayenne pepper to the mix. I didn't just want to repeat what's already out there, so I stood in the Serious Eats test kitchen, stared at our spice collection, and asked aloud, "What can I put on these to make them a little different, but still really good?"
"Chipotle?" asked Vicky.
I'm so glad she did, because it's a money idea. See, chipotle chili powder adds not just heat to the chips, like cayenne does, but a balanced savory, smoky kick too.
Ah, who am I kidding? There's nothing balanced about these chips, and that's precisely why I can't get enough.