CHEAP FOOD I LOVE #3: Scampi And Lemon Nik-Naks

Observational comedy is the bane of pub conversation. It is despite everything still possible to have a three-hour discussion of kids’ TV, but not without a high level of self-consciousness and a certain shame. Nuggets of childhood memory were most valuable when they were shared among a circle of intimates, not trotted-out in a three-page Guardian Guide article.

Every 80s schoolchild probably knew that the Scampi Nik-Nak was the A-Bomb of the crisp world, but nobody would have thought the fact worthy of national broadcast. Now they’ve been brought back and the packet itself crows about how horribly intense the flavour – and associated smell – is. There are even warnings not to eat the things in a confined space, which I have so far scrupulously obeyed, even though walking down Oxford Street eating crisps makes you feel like a fool.

The crisps themselves (actually ‘snacks’ but we’ll get to that) are as extraordinary as ever, but this self-knowledge makes them rather charmless. Back in the 80s though the ‘corn snack’ was in its prime, battering the trad crisps market by means of novelty shapes and a flavouring arms race: Nik-Naks, Monster Munch, even the humble Frazzle would be whole firework displays in your mouth compared to the squibs G. Wonder etc were offering. The Scampi Nik-Nak was the boggling culmination of this – in memory it was like stuffing raw glutamate into your gob, you could tell by the crumbly texture that the flavour atoms had been packed in so tightly as to almost destroy the entire structure of each Nik-Nak. Actually it’s much crunchier than I recall, but the scouringly sweet-and-sour flavour hit is intact.

Like proper bands and sensible haircuts, the real crisp resurged in the drab 1990s, with flavour freaks forced to buy nasty mustard Brannigans. Thankfully crisp manufacturers are starting to loosen up – witness Golden Wonder’s takeaway range (troublingly authentic) and the McCoys Spice range (uniformly disgusting but a good try) – perhaps the 00s will be when the crisp-making imagination once again takes wing?