LAY’S PATATJE JOPPIE
“Joppiesaus? What in the name of God is that?” is likely your first question here. Joppiesaus, pronounced ‘Yoppy-sows’ in Dutch, is a ‘cold, yellow snack sauce’ that you’ll typically find served with fast food in the Netherlands and Belgium. The authoritative recipe for the famed condiment is steeped in mystery, but what we know is this: the sauce is based on vegetable oil, water and an emulsifier and contains onion and curry powder as its staple ingredients. If you look at images of this acclaimed sauce, you’ll find pictures of it in unattractive vats in varying consistencies and shades of yellow, as well as images of chips smeared liberally with the stuff.The sauce’s namesake, a café owner from Glanerbrug, Holland, was known affectionately as Joppie. As the story goes, Joppie decided to capitalise on the fruits of her ingenuity by selling the recipe to condiment giant Elite Salades & Snacks in order to live off the fat of the land. There you have it, a potted history of the condiment: but how did this beloved sauce become a crisp? In February 2011, Lay’s took the market by storm with the Patatje Joppie specimen we see here today. Joppiesaus Lay’s emerged victorious from only the biggest crisp competition in the business, the Maak Je Smaak (create your own flavour) challenge, winning a whopping 72% of the popular vote and leaving its two rivals (Mango Red Chili and Nr.66 Babi Pangang) to kiss its ass. Meanwhile, Patatje Joppie reveled in its newfound fame. Yes, Lay’s put Joppiesaus on the map with this daring crisp flavour, and the snack is now readily available for purchase in the Netherlands and Belgium.
“I didn’t come here for a history lesson, I wanted a crisp review!” You might be whining. Shut the fuck up, you’ll get what you’re given. Joppiesaus’ trajectory from chip condiment to crisp flavour got me thinking: are all of the best crisp flavours born from their hot, chunkier cousins (chips)? Perhaps this theory does not account for the popularity of rogue crisp flavours, like Nik Naks Nice n’ Spicy (which is in itself an aberration to almost every rule), or even for your classic Cheese and Onion. But if you look at the facts, the correlation is overwhelmingly clear: Salt, Salt n’ Vinegar, even Ketchup (call me a heathen, I don’t care) all started life as a chip topping. The very packet in question here celebrates this inheritance, as it proudly showcases three incarnations of potato: potato, chip and crisp. The three mighty brothers. Yes, if it’s good enough for the potato, it’s good enough for the crisp. You do the maths.
So, how does Joppiesaus fare as a crisp flavour? Reader, these crisps are very nice indeed. The first bite showcases that enchanting curry flavour, which has about it an intoxicating sweetness. Of course, there’s the ever-present, underlying saltiness of the Lay’s crisp itself, so rest assured, the crisp is never too sweet. The curry taste matures into something more savoury: it’s potent, almost Marmite-like. Salty and delicious. The balance of curry, sweet and salt is delicate, and the chemistry of flavouring adroit. Consider a Pickled Onion Monster Munch. This crisp is comparable in flavour, though it has less sweetness and more curry taste. The Lay’s have such elegance and subtlety however, that the Monster Munch seem unbearably crass by contrast. I’m no snob about Monster Munch, but the pleasure of eating them is inevitably paired with a sense of humiliation: the claw shape is messy and gets stuck in your molars; that telltale smell is pungent, allowing little room for discretion; the pickled onion scent lingers uncomfortably on the breath. A double edged sword if you will. Indeed, the very charm of the Monster Munch —the novelty claw shape, the unique flavour— is suddenly garish in comparison with the grace of the Lay’s. Beauty, I’m afraid to say, meets the Beast.
Yes, this crisp is very nice. It is the deserving winner of the 2011 Maak Je Smaak competition, certainly. Structurally, this is an archetypical crisp, and everything we have come to expect from Lay’s (or Walkers, as we know them): thin, light, crispy. For some, this textbook crisp has had its day, and sure, you’re not going to get the excitement of a deep ridge cut, a novelty shape or something meatier. This is the Clarks shoe of the crisp market: comfortable, reliable, able to withstand the test of time and remarkable value for money, but it won’t earn you any points with the kids. The thrill-seekers might scoff at Lay’s/Walkers but let’s face it: they’re the people’s favourite, and they’re going to be on the shelves day in, day out. For good reason: Lay’s know what they do and they do it well. So really it’s no surprise that the Joppiesaus variety have fared so well. I can’t stress this point enough: Lay’s are no amateurs – they’re absolutely the biggest cats in the crisp game.What about Walkers? Aren’t Lay’s just the European version of Walkers? This is only the biggest misconception in the book, so let’s clear it up once and for all. A deep-rooted imperialistic bias might have you believe that Walkers rule the crisp empire. But no, Walkers are a mere subsidiary of Lay’s, a.k.a. the corporate giant Frito-Lay, which in turn is owned by Pepsi Co.. Frito Lay doesn’t just own Walkers, but also (and you might want to sit down for this) Max, Sun Bites, Sensations, Bugles, Monster Munch, Wotsits, French Fries, Quavers, Squares, Doritos, Cheetos, Baked crisps, Ruffles and many more. Frito-Lay is the mogul of crisps, and we were fools ever to have thought otherwise. Of course they can invent radical new flavours, and when these are a mere twist on Lay’s most standard crisp format, well, that’s just small fry. It’s not at all surprising that they’ve ended up with an absolute slam dunk here. Lay’s are sending us a clear message with these crisps: never doubt the brand, and above all, yield, oh yield, to its indomitable power.
The simple design of the packet is a perfect example of the brand’s almighty self-confidence. There are no gimmicks here. The yellow bag alludes to the colour of the trademark sauce, and you’ll find the Joppiesaus logo on the bottom left. There’s an image of 3 chips which are generously lathered with the condiment, pictured here looking strikingly similar to French mustard.Lay’s haven’t gone out of their way to make these look appetising: not only is the serving of chips tiny, but the distribution of sauce is terrible, with one chip pulling all the weight. Lay’s have chosen to include an image of a small yellow plastic fork in one of the chips, lending them a retro feel. The attempt to sell the Joppiesaus flavour to the consumer is half-hearted at best. You’d be hard pressed to find an adjective on there, let alone a description of any kind. Yes, Joppiesaus is popular in the Netherlands and Belgium, but it’s not that popular. It’s not ubiquitous by any stretch of the imagination, and Lay’s, after all, is a global brand. There’s an assumption encoded in this packaging that the brand speaks for itself. To those inquisitive few who question the crisp flavour, who search for justification, who wonder what Joppiesaus even is, Lay’s gives a big middle finger.
Frito-Lay is the big daddy of the crisp business, and boy do they know it. They can waltz into the market and introduce an unlikely sweetheart of a new flavour without so much as a hello, how do you do. But there’s something interesting going on here in their decision to champion this humble sauce. At the heart of the Patatje Joppie crisp there is a beautiful rags to riches story: the tale of a condiment, which, with the help of a prosperous benefactor, escapes its modest beginnings and soars to corporate fame, Babe, pig in the city-style. As the crisp lines supermarket shelves, yellow bag upon yellow bag adorned with that trademark Joppiesaus logo, the Glanerbrug café days seem but shadows of a past forgotten. The titular Joppie is written indelibly into the history books. It’s a story tinged with sadness, though: these crisps are sentenced to limited appreciation. Yes, they’re delicious, but good luck finding them in the UK! They are the white tiger of the crisp world. Lay’s may have granted Joppie and her progeny immortality, but the tragedy is that this gorgeous child is a caged bird, sentenced to sing for eternity in melodies sweet and fair, for a theatre only partly filled.