ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!
ʼʼ

Friday, June 8, 2012

Pitta Patter

I suppose I must have been about nine or ten when I was first introduced to the concept of the ‘acquired taste’.

It was breakfast time. I was staying with my paternal grandmother (‘Other Grandma’) down in Milford-on-Sea during the Summer holidays, and I was tentatively toying with the idea of trying some marmalade on my toast, which is what Other Grandma and Grandad Bob did.

Maybe they’d run out of the peanut butter they got in especially for me. I can’t remember. It was over 9000 breakfasts ago.

Anyway, for some reason, maybe nothing more than the irrationality of childhood, I’d assumed for years that I wouldn’t like marmalade and when I finally plucked up the courage to try it, I eagerly reaffirmed my infantile prejudices.

Had we used the word ‘manky’ in the mid-1980s, I’d have declared it so.

‘It’s something of an acquired taste’ remarked Other Grandma, which was a statement I simply didn’t understand. After some explanation, I learned that this basically meant a kind of food which tasted bad, but if you ate enough of it, it would eventually start tasting good. You what?

It made scant sense to a child, and maybe I was too young to actually understand how it worked, but it turned out to be true, and a couple of Summer Holidays later, I’d be eating marmalade at breakfast when staying with Other Grandma.

Since then, I have successfully acquired many more acquired tastes. Anchovies. Mushrooms. Flapjacks. All things I didn’t like – or didn’t think I liked – as a young boy, but which I now rather enjoy.

These tastes all took a fair while to acquire, mind. One thing I didn’t realise until very recently was that’s it’s possible for a taste to be acquired from scratch in a single sitting.

Oh look, Ben's been out drinking again

The other day I was drinking in the Catford Bridge Taven - a recent and very worthy addition to the Antic pub estate - and after three or four pints I began to feel the need for some snackage to accompany my Tintagel Black Knight, but they’d run out of Pork Scratchings. Arsebollocks.

Nevertheless, I needed something to nibble on, and having seen the trademark white paper bags of Soffle's pitta chips in a few pubs lately, I decided now was the sensible time to try them. After all, they are chilli and garlic flavour.

The few minutes immediately after I opened the bag went something like this:

Go on, try one...
T + five seconds: Crunch. Ugh. Crunchy-crunch. Ugh. WTF?

T + ten seconds: Crunch. Seriously, what oven-roasted devilry is this?!? It’s just a lump of pitta bread that’s gone all hard and dry. Manky.

T + 30 seconds: Yep, these are probably stale. Crunch. Better take them back to the bar - surely they’re not supposed to be like this?

T + one minute: Hmm, maybe, I’ll try one more, just to make sure… Crunch. I’m getting some nice garlicy flavours now though.

T + three minutes: OK, so I’ve probably had too many to take them back now. And what if they are supposed to be like this after all? Mouth nicely tingling with chilli, and the crunchy, brittle texture actually sort of works.

T + five minutes: Actually, these do go well with beer, don’t they? Crunch crunch crunch. And where did this throbbing heat come from? Ooh, I’ve nearly finished them. Crunch.

T + six minutes: I feel like having some more. No, really, I've got to have MORE!

…and there you have perhaps the most rapidly-acquired taste in gastronomic history. OK, so it’s hard to go wrong with chilli and garlic, but I had no idea after my first bite that these little bits of dry, hard bread would be so moreish.

As an accompaniment to beer, they are a work of genius. Brittle, savage genius.

More manky memories

The first bite into cold, hard pitta felt reminded me of leaving a takeaway kebab overnight and letting it bask for hours in the morning sun before eating it as a brunchtime ‘treat’, which was an experience of extreme mankiness, but it didn’t take long before I got used to the dense crunchiness and wanted to experience it after every quaff of ale.

I’m not sure how much I’d enjoy eating them if I didn’t have a pint close at hand, but that doesn’t really matter as this is the type of snack I only ever eat when I’m drinking beer, and they’ll be competing with Pork Scratchings and Kettle chips for my pub-time affections.

Made somewhere in Stoke Newington by Sophie on a distinctly non-industrial scale, Soffle’s pitta chips are available in both ‘Mild’ and ‘Wild’ varieties – I tried the stronger version first, but there isn’t a vast difference between the two and the mild version still packs a lot of flavour. For the maximum hit of chilli and garlic, go for the ‘wild’ though, obviously.

The heat sneaks up on you like some demented, spicy stalker, and you'll have no idea just how hot they are until you're half-way through the bag.

With a marketing hat on, I don't particularly like the 'Soffle' name, because it sounds like a portmanteau of 'soft' and 'waffle', which doesn't seem quite right for a snack that is drier than the bones of the children of Dunblane.

(Admittedly, it would probably be a lot worse if they used 'drier than the bones of the children of Dunblane' as an advertising slogan though, so I'll shut up about it!)

The list of ingredients is admirably concise and all-natural, and, as snacks in pubs go, they’re probably on the healthier side, what with being oven-baked’n’shit. Though one of the reasons they grew on me so quickly is likely to be the quantity of olive oil and salt involved in baking them. High in carbs, obviously, if you care about that sort of thing.

I've tried a third variety, 'Rosemary and Thyme', though these flavours seem to be in addition to, rather than instead of, the chilli and garlic, and it's nice to find stalky bits of Rosemary amongst the burnt garlic. It's hard to resist putting your finger back into the bag long after the chips have been eaten. Like a herby sherbet dib-dab.

There are plans for expansion: Flavour combinations that don’t involve garlic and chilli are coming soon, and I’d be interested in variations involving black pepper or Parmesan. And perhaps basil and oregano.

Sophie tells me she is about to go 'on the road' in a pitta chip truck, and if it turns up at a beer festival, she'll sell out in a matter of minutes. Bags of Soffles will be changing hands on the black market for hundreds of pence.

It might not be the catchiest name ever, and your teeth might cry ‘what the brittle fuck?!?’ when you first bite into them, but just give them a few minutes. You and your beer will have a new best friend.


Soffle's pitta chips are available in the Craft Beer Company, the Catford Bridge Tavern and countless other good pubs.

4 comments:

  1. I've never seen these anywhere but they sound like my kind of thing. Can you get outside London??

    ReplyDelete
  2. Good question - Sophie, if you're reading, can you let us know if they are available outside the capital?

    I've only seen them in a select handful of pubs in London, and Soffles website and blog is very London-focussed, but I'd imagine that the business will expand beyond this area soon if it hasn't already.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "...drier than the bones of the children of Dunblane". WTF????? Sick bastard.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yes, but who is the real sick bastard? Ben for saying the chips are drier than the bones of the children of Dunblane, or the people who make them drier than the bones of the children of Dunblane? Think about it. Joe

    ReplyDelete

Comments are always welcomed and encouraged, especially interesting, thought-provoking contributions and outrageous suggestions.