While shopping at the horribly chaotic Target at the Atlantic Center several weeks ago, I noticed something strange in the freezer aisle. Maybe I was just oblivious before, but there was a good number of frozen entrees based on Chinese takeout. Yes, frozen egg rolls and dumplings have been around for a while, and Trader Joe’s is no stranger to frozen-foodifying Asian dishes. Now it seems PF Chang’s has a shiny new line of “Home Menu” dinners, including Orange Chicken, Beef with Broccoli, and Shrimp Lo Mein, just waiting to be taken home and zapped in the microwave. (These are apparently for all those times late at night when the Golden Panda around the corner is closed, or when 15 minutes of waiting for the delivery guy is too much to handle.)
From an anthropological standpoint, I was dying to buy a package of P.F. Chang’s Sweet & Sour Chicken to try in my own microwave. What a great blog post that would make! Then I read the ingredients, became dizzy with complex chemical terms, and turned my cart away from the frozen food section.
That was when I stumbled on a huge display of Archer Farms products, and an entire row of “General Tso’s Thick Cut Potato Chips” at eye level. It seems that after exhausting all the possible barbecue and chili flavors on the market, the potato chip industry may have pinpointed Chinese takeout flavors as The Next Big Thing.
(I was also reminded of Lay’s Potato Chips in China. Lay’s in China is a whole different beast. At some point the chief flavor scientist must have had a field day, thinking up such exciting and perplexing flavors as Red Wine Chicken, Italian Red Meat, Blueberry, Lychee, and Numb & Spicy Hot Pot. A walk down any the junk food aisle at any Chinese Carrefour, or other big grocery store, is something to be experienced.)
I bought a bag of the Archer Farm chips, went home, and did some research. Apparently Terra Chips also made a General Tso’s flavor. Whole Foods didn’t carry them but the Fairway on Broadway and 74th did.
Several weeks later I held a mini taste test, appropriately right before a meal of leftover Chinese food (which sadly did not include General Tso’s). Here are the results from the commenters:
Archer Farms’ ridged General Tso’s
Characteristics: Vinegary, with a lot of garlic powder and preservatives. Artificial flavors are very “in-your-face”. Not very spicy.
Tastes like: “A barbecue potato chip but with Asian flavors.” “Bad hot and sour soup with lots of MSG.” “Something I’ve had many times in Chinese restaurants but can’t put my finger on.” “The chili sauce you get with spring rolls.”
Would buy again? Mixed
Terra Chips non-ridged General Tso’s
Characteristics: Immediate lime taste, a tinge of sweetness, followed by a slight chili powder kick. More subtle, good for long periods of snacking.
Tastes like: “Tom yum goong.” “Pad thai dusted with some chili flakes.” “Makes me really want a Thai iced tea.”
Would buy again? Yes
Conclusion: Neither really tasted like General Tso’s chicken, but both are good snacks while waiting for your Chinese food to reheat.