Hot chips

It was my birthday. I don't remember which, but I was still living at home and, as a birthday treat, I was allowed to choose what we had for dinner. Dette and Kev (my grandmother and grandfather, on my mother's side) were there, and we were sitting in our usual seats at the dark wooden dining table.

This table—on the carpet in the L-shape between the lounge room and the kitchen—holds the memories of my childhood dinners. When I think about it harder, I remember that we used to sit out on the tiles near the computer room on a table of much lighter and softer wood, and I remember wandering with my parents through Amart looking for the ideal dining table. I remember sometimes eating outside in the indoor-outdoor room, or eventually on the deck they built. But the dinners of my childhood, at first glance, were all at this table in this specific space of that specific house.

Our old dining table became my desk. It went into the spare room, and I used to write on it with such a heavy hand that my letters became engraved in its surface. I would also sometimes sit beneath the table and write secret messages to myself in pencil, which I'd read later and erase because they revealed too many things that I never wanted my parents to find. I sanded that table and painted it white—with roses climbing up the legs—and took it to my new house when I moved out. It was our dining table for a while there too, but now it is my desk again, and the paint is peeling.

When I moved out with my rose-covered table, I was 20. I remember the first time I came back home for dinner: I sat in my usual seat at that dark wooden table, still on the L-shape of carpet, and my dad made a comment about me being in his seat. It took me a moment to understand.

I had always sat between my parents, but as soon as I stopped living there, of course it made no sense for my mum and my dad to sit with a void of space between them. I'd just never thought about it. I'd never imagined them sitting side-by-side, sharing the stories of their day at work or their plans for their next holiday. (They took their first overseas holiday almost as soon as I moved out, to the country I'd always wanted to visit, and I wasn't invited.)

But on this childhood birthday, we were all in our rightful places around that dark wooden dining table. I sat between my mum (on my right) and my dad (on my left), opposite Dette and diagonally across from Kev.

In front of us sat a loaf of white bread, a tub of Meadow Lea Original margarine spread, and a large pile of hot chips from the Charcoal Chicken store on Birtwill Street. My family used tongs to put their chips onto their buttered bread, but I laid mine out one at a time into the perfect lattice, letting it stack up to four or five layers before applying the second slice of buttered bread, pressing it down and securing the contents. My approach to constructing a chip butty (which at the time I still thought was a 'chip buddy'—my sweet, delicious chip friend) was a work of art that I had formulated over many years. It was my birthday treat of choice. It was my favourite food.

Was?

Is.

It doesn't have to be a chip butty specifically, although they do hold a special place in my heart. In general, it's just hot chips that bring me joy. I'll take them hot or cold, seasoned with nothing or salt or some special combination, in sauces or gravy, covered in cheese or other toppings, thin cut (fries) or thick cut or square cut, or even waffle cut or as wedges. I'll eat chips in any of their many forms.

But I will also have opinions.

My best friend—Jess—and I often joke about our shared love for hot chips. At a recent talk we gave in front of an auditorium at RMIT in Melbourne, we joked about how we have a list of criteria that we use to assess the chips we share. It was hilarious, but also not altogether untrue.

We talked about this during a car ride once. There's a texture aspect: crunchy outside, soft middle. But we also determined that a lot of it is based on the seasoning. That's not to say seasoning is everything though; if a soggy chip is well-seasoned, that's not enough to save it. It's complicated.

Those chips from the Charcoal Chicken in Coolum Beach are still my favourite. They're a perfect golden yellow colour, and have really good chicken salt. They're the perfect consistency. But they're also incredibly influenced by nostalgia; it's been twenty years, but they still taste exactly the same.

I also loved the chips (with truffle salt) served at Made. Fine Sandwiches, but that sandwich shop closed down. There's a cafe near my work called Max and Mason who I am sure put cinnamon in their seasoning, but their chips aren't as good as their fries. There's also a Yiros shop nearby that uses an oregano seasoning; they're not as good as Max and Mason, but they're a shorter walk from the office.

Seriously, I care about this stuff. When I first started at Defiant Development, I was invited to a channel where people organise what they want for for lunch. A couple of colleagues were asking about options, and of course my 2 cents involved chips:

It was also followed by this admission:


People get judgemental about eating chips. It's a side or a kid's meal, it's not the favourite food of an adult human being. Adults should not eat chips for lunch. 'Get a burger to go with it at least, for goodness sake,' I see them silently saying with their glares. But my colleagues accepted my chip-fiendishness immediately—and in doing so, they accepted me immediately—and that was the most comforting thing that happened in my first week here.

When I reached the end of my three month probationary period and was accepted as a permanent full-time employee, Jono—one of my other colleagues—remembered my love and suggested that we go out for celebratory chips. The Slack channel started a whole conversation about where the best chips in Fortitude Valley are. I love these people.

I think part of the reason I love chips so much is that they don't hurt me.

That sounds really melodramatic, but as somebody who has always had issues with stomach pain, knowing a food is harmless is important to me. When I was a kid, sometimes the preservatives in icecream that we bought from the passing truck—with its tempting, devilish song—would leave me curled up on the tiles of the hallway for an hour in pain. Even now, I sometimes get acute stomach pain, maybe because of what I eat, when I eat it, how much I eat, or the position of venus in relation to the sun, or something.

But chips have always been my safe option. Even toast can be harmful sometimes: the gluten in the bread, the preservatives in whatever you put on it... Chips are just potato, oil, salt, and maybe some other seasoning. They are safe and kind.

My parents used to take advantage of this. I was an incredibly fussy eater, and whenever they wanted me to try a new food, they'd serve it alongside a handful of hot chips. I'd alternate—chip, nasty new thing, chip, nasty new thing—and I'd always make sure there were chips left to cleanse my palate at the end of the meal. I'd like to say that I've outgrown this, but I haven't; this is still my go-to trick for teaching myself to enjoy a food that I haven't quite managed to convince my palate is tolerable yet. Turns out being a fussy eater isn't always something you just 'grow out of' but I'm working on it.

I have so many memories of sitting around a serving of chips in white paper: on the grass in a park, on the concrete at the back of my highschool, or around a dining table. I have memories of people stealing chips from plates or packets, passing leftover chips down the table to whomever wasn't full yet, or sharing from a cup of chips shoved in the console of a car while we drove from wherever to wherever else.

Chips have been a way that I treat myself, tend to myself, and trick myself. But they've also been a way for me to bond with others: they have facilitated the sharing of old stories, and the creating of new ones. They are my favourite food.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Red Bull

Work ethic