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Texas Grilled BBQ-tastic.

Image: Alice Levitt

What is Texas barbecue? It's a complex question, subject to regional intricacies, lots of semantics and a fair amount of pointless soapboxing. But why argue when China has it all figured out for us?

Behold, Texas barbecue as defined by the flavor gurus at Lay's in China. OK, for most of us, the first rule of authentic Texas barbecue is that it's not grilled. But let's cut our friends in the Orient a little slack. Maybe it tastes smoky, or somehow like that grill-marked, rosemary bedecked steak on the package that in no way resembles barbecue. Actually, it's neither. 

There is a hint of something that reminds me of low-quality beef bouillon, which is interesting, because "beef powder seasoning" is one of the lowest ingredients on the list, well below soy sauce powder, chicken bone extract and perhaps most delicious of all, silica. Isn't that toxic? According to this paper, although inhaling silica will probably kill you, a deficiency in the compound "induces deformities in skull and peripheral bones, poorly formed joints, reduced contents of cartilage, collagen, and disruption of mineral balance in the femur and vertebrae." So there, even if they don't taste good or like barbecue, Texas Grilled BBQ chips are good for you. Kind of.

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Hey, they're both crispy, right?

Image: Alice Levitt

But the Texas Grilled BBQ chips weren't the only ones I scooped up on my recent jaunt to Chinatown's new Great Wall Supermarket. I just couldn't induce myself to grab the Mexican Tomato Chicken in its hot pink package, but I did bring home the bag simply labeled "Cucumber Flavor." Pickle chips are popular in Canada and making inroads in the United States. Is that what Lay's meant? 

Nope. They meant cucumber. And while white sugar is troublingly the second ingredient after potatoes, cucumber powder is indeed on there, too. Even more surprising: It kind of works. With a crunch of the chip, the first flavors to take hold are the sugar and vinegar powder, then soy sauce. But the finish is clearly of cucumber. And dare I say, it's kind of refreshing in an "I just ate something full of oil and MSG" way. I'm confused, which is probably a normal reaction. But nonetheless, I find I can't eat just one.

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