When I was a Senior in high school, I was pretty broke most of the time. This was, as I think back, mostly by choice; I had a perfectly respectable teenager’s job at the Shaw’s Supermarket in Rockland, which I knew wasn’t going to be a major career move. The four dollars per hour I earned pushing discarded shopping carts around the parking lot wasn’t much of an incentive, either; at the end of a week of work, I’d be presented with a check for 34 dollars, after taxes. No, I decided my time would be much better spent squatting on the mean streets of Tenants Harbor, the kind of lovely seaside community where the installation of a gas pump at the local market made big news, and the sight of an idle teenager in combat boots could still be shocking, or at least, of mild interest. One day, I simply called the manager of the supermarket, and told him that I wasn’t coming in that day. Or ever again.
In the nearly twenty years that have gone by since then, placing value on my time instead of on my income has led to periods of some pretty questionable dietary choices. After quitting my job at Shaw’s as a teenager, for example, my gainful employment was replaced by a diet that was made up almost entirely of Humpty Dumpty “Sour Cream ’n’ Clam” flavored potato chips, and Little Debbie “Nutty Bars,” which then cost only a quarter. These chips were, to me, the star of Humpty Dumpty’s lineup of decidedly weird flavors, which at the time also included dill pickle, roast chicken, and ketchup flavors. The big purple bag offered around 1200 calories for $1.69, which, at the time, just made good sense economically.
When we moved back to Maine in 2009 after spending four years living in Mexico, Humpty Dumpty “Sour Cream ‘n’ Clam” potato chips were one of the first comforting snacks from home that I couldn’t wait to get reacquainted with. To my dismay, however, something peculiar must have happened at the Humpty Dumpty company during our time away. Not only were Sour Cream ‘n’ Clam chips seemingly no longer being manufactured, but there seemed to be a real scarcity to ANY of Humpty Dumpty’s oddball flavors. The chip section (which in America commands at least one half of an entire aisle) was strangely short on Humpty Dumpty’s products, and when they were available, could only be found in their boring “plain” and “barbecue” varieties.
This long-winded introduction is meant only to properly convey the unbridled enthusiasm which I felt all the way into my very soul, upon spotting a bag of Humpty Dumpty Ripples “Lobster Bisque” Potato Chips. After so much time apart, I was genuinely excited about finally getting to once again combine my love of potato chips with my love of seafood. In the strangely aggressive world of potato chip marketing, where every other bag is “Extreme Nacho” or “Flavor-Blasted Ranch” or “Collarbone-Shattering Chiptole,” the sincerity and folksy charm of the Humpty Dumpty package is a calming relief. There’s Humpty Dumpty himself at the top of the bag, in a red bow tie, doffing his cap and waving. The startled-looking South Park-style lobsters also look happy to be there, even though it is they that are ostensibly ground into dust and caked onto the potato chips within. Even the price is old-timey and comforting; at just two bucks a bag, not buying them wouldn’t make any sense at all.
When I first pulled open the bag, I was awash in an instantly familiar scent that I hadn’t smelled in many years. It wasn’t regular potato chips, though, or even the Sour Cream ‘n’ Clam chips of my memory. After a few deep inhalations, I realized that the Lobster Bisque chips from Humpty Dumpty smell exactly like Smartfood cheese popcorn, that slightly acidic, slightly musty funk that I haven’t smelled in years, primarily because I don’t smoke weed and thus have no occasion to eat Smartfood popcorn. It seemed like a strange way for seafood-flavored chips to smell; where was the lobster, in my Lobster Bisque chips?
The weak presentation of the chip’s aroma extended, unfortunately, to the chips themelves. My first reaction to them was that they tasted simply vaguely “seasoned,” but not like anything resembling lobster, or for that matter, like anything that came from the sea. Mostly, the chips tasted like run-of-the-mill ranch flavoring, with maybe a tiny bit of a stanky finish, which must be what the Humpty Dumpty flavor scientists were equating with lobster.
A glance at the ingredient list reveals the problem. Humpty Dumpty Lobster Bisque potato chips get their flavor from, in order: Buttermilk powder, tomato powder, MSG, onion powder, and garlic powder, followed by the more vague “natural flavor” and the even more vague “spices.” In other words, the same seasonings you would use in ranch or sour cream and onion flavored chips. You know what’s not on the list? Lobster. Heavy Cream. White wine. Parmesan cheese. Not one of the things that make a good lobster bisque, and not even any synthetic or extracted versions of those ingredients.
I want my Lobster Bisque flavored potato chips to taste like lobster bisque, not like the inside of a hospital linen closet. Though I was pleased with the chips’ crunch and texture, the price, as well with how many arrived back to my house intact and unbroken, they simply did not deliver the classic Humpty Dumpty seafood-flavored potato chip experience that I’ve been missing. As reluctant as I am to say it, these chips are no substitute for their clam-flavored ancestors. Humpty Dumpty Sour Cream ‘n’ Clam, no one has seen your equal. I miss you.
(Nutrition Facts — 1 ounce, about 18 chips — 150 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of total fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 310 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of total carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, less than 1 gram of sugars, and 2 grams of protein.)