Aji WOW: tuna mayo potato chips
Aji WOW is my series of unusual Japanese food/drink reviews. 'Aji' (味) means 'flavour', and the name's also a pun on 'ajiwau' (味わう) - 'to enjoy the taste of'.
This time: Calbee tuna mayonnaise crisps.
You may be aware that, earlier this year, Japan experienced a potato shortage. Hokkaido, the biggest potato producer in the country, wasn't able to produce the normal crop level last autumn. That had a direct impact on crisp production for spring 2017.
It was described as a crisis in the media. Japan's crisp industry was at serious risk. They were even considering - whisper it - importing potatoes from America. Well, we couldn't have that.
Until more Japan-grown potatoes were available, brands cut back on their ranges. Potato-based snacks started to disappear from the shelves, because they weren't being restocked.
Calbee, which holds about 75% of the market, took 17 different flavours of crisps out of production until further notice. I didn't even know they made more than 17 flavours before that happened.
In response, people stockpiled unusual varieties. And resold them online at obscene prices. There were tales of pizza-flavoured crisps appearing on eBay at 6x their usual retail value.
The best way to spot restored confidence is when the weird crisps make a comeback. Spring potatoes were due to debut in crisp form any day now. So I knew that potato crops were on the up when I saw a tuna mayo flavour by Calbee on sale at the conbini.
It was this or beef. No contest.
This flavour's a limited collaboration with the 7-11 convenience store chain. It says COLLABORATION POTATO CHIPS along the top and bottom of the pack. Okay then!
There's a 7-11 tuna mayo onigiri peeking out on the right-hand side there. Because how else do you represent a flavour like that? A fish smiling and holding up a bottle of Kewpie from the supermarket?
On opening the bag, the smell is overwhelmingly mayo. It's a little vinegar-y sour when it hits the nose. No matter how deeply I inhaled, there was no tuna aroma to be found.
Not off to a great start there. Maybe the taste would have more tuna in it?
Sadly, no. It's hard to even taste the mayonnaise in these crisps, if I'm honest. There's zero trace of tuna. What you get instead is an indistinct sense of umami. It's not a flavour, exactly, just a savoury depth that ready salted doesn't have.
I asked 2 of my coworkers to try a few, and they said similar things about the taste. Nothing wrong with my tastebuds, you'll be reassured to know.
So, these tuna mayo crisps aren't awful. They're not tuna mayonnaise, either.
Verdict: 4/10. This comes dangerously close to being a waste of potato.