- The Man Who Ate Spain
Johann Sebastian Lunasa was a man obsessed. His devotion to crisps, or potato chips as other nations prefer to call them, was second to none, and he allowed no other food to pass his lips, ever. Naturally there were side effects, and the high salt content of the crisps caused the inside of his cheeks to permanently pucker up and change texture, like the mantle of an octopus mimicking a rock. Now his blood pressure was sky high, and his digestive system was destroyed from all the years of insulting it with such disgustingly delicious foods, but he didn’t seem to care.
The first packet he had ever tasted was as a small boy who could not yet speak. Evidence of this important event was to be found in a black-and-white photograph taken in 1968 of a cousin’s birthday party at which Johann Sebastian was pictured tucking into his second bag of “Tayto” crisps while all the other children were gorging themselves on cake and jelly.
Mealtimes became a source of strain for his tormented mother, as she made valiant efforts to entice his taste buds with farmers market sausages and homemade fish cakes that would melt the heart of many a child. But she was wasting her time because as far as he was concerned there was no going back. He was a purist now; it was crisps or nothing.
He remembered some seminal moments. The first time he tasted roast chicken flavor, for example, had been on a school tour to the Adventure Port theme park in the North of Ireland when he was just seven years old. All the children were impatiently waiting to experience what a zero-G roll or a vertical loop felt like, and they queued up excitedly for the biggest thrill of their lives. But not Johann Sebastian. He left them to their rides and folly and can still remember to this very day exactly where he had stood when he opened his first-ever bag of exotic Kukudrulu crisps. It was next to the thirty-six-metre-long track inversion of the Serpent’s Tail rollercoaster, and the blur of terrified students that screeched past him as he began to crunch on the delicious snack would forever be melded to the waft of [End Page 29] scented chicken dust that drifted out of the bag to mingle with the speed and terror. That moment had felt as if he had just opened a tomb full of gold.
Johann Sebastian was acutely aware that the zeitgeist of entire decades could be clearly defined by nothing more than a single type of crisp. Taking the trophy for the early 1970s, for instance—and a unanimous winner it was too—was the legendary prawn cocktail “Disco” by KP. This was the crisp that launched a thousand copies, and its influence can still be seen from design to content to this very day. Not strictly a crisp, of course—more of a moulded potato disc that resembled a desiccated jelly-fish, one of those purple ones that you’d find shored up on the beach during childhood summers, and one that was doomed to meet with a humiliating end.
Thanks to the blockbusting television soap opera Dallas, the early eighties saw sales of smoky bacon-flavoured “Rancheros” (also by KP of the United Kingdom) shoot through the roof. Everyone walked around with bright orange crumbs on their lips and breath that smelled of fake chargrill. This unassuming snack food was the very key that opened the door to the late eighties trends of line dancing, power dressing, and stadium rock, featuring the likes of Garth Brooks, Bruce Springsteen, and Bon Jovi, at whose concerts the empty packets of the aforementioned Rancheros were to be found littering the ground when the shows were finished and the decade done. And so it went on.
Johann Sebastian had interesting thoughts on the keystone flavours. It was a well-known fact that “cheese ‘n’ onion” and “salt and vinegar” were the Adam and Eve of the potato crisp world. But which was male and which was female...