Potato Chips

By Songyi Zhang

These days I crave Lay’s wavy chips. I’m surprised at myself.

In China, potato chips are considered junk food. And of course, kids love junk food. Who doesn’t? But parents go nuts if they see their kids munching too many potato chips. In Southern China where I grew up, deep fried food is regarded as the chief culprit of sore throat and pimples. Fried potato chips are definitely unhealthy food. When I was a kid, I needed to hide behind my mother’s back to enjoy a few pieces.

In America, potatoes are a staple. Americans can prepare potatoes in a dozen ways, as creatively as Chinese prepare rice. Home fried potatoes are usually on the breakfast menu in American diners. Just in the first month after my arrival in America, I had tried French fries, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes and potato chips. Thank heavens Mom wasn’t around.     

I remember how shocked I was when I was introduced to potato chips as a side dish. A common American lunch is a sandwich with a side dish, which includes apple sauce, soup, veggie salad or chips. At Panera Bread, a chain deli popular among university students, I saw a whole shelf of various potato chips and similar crispy junk food. They’re stashed in red, orange, white, green bulging bags. How can potato chips count as part of a meal?

My American classmates loved having chips in class. (That’s something Chinese students are not allowed to do—eating in class.) And they often told me a bag of chips was their supper when we had an evening class. I said nothing but was amazed. How can a bag of potato chips fill up a stomach? Having potato chips is like chewing a gust of wind.

I’m not sure whether my craving for chips these days is a sign of my having adopted American culture, but I’m still Chinese enough to feel guilty when I eat them.

Filed under: Prose, Songyi Zhang's America