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Potato Love

“Oh, so is that how you say your name?”

“Yes. Like ‘eve’ with an N.”

“That’s so weird, but so cool, where is it from?”

“It’s Irish-Gaelic. I was born there.”

“Oh wo-o-ow, that is so interesting and beautiful! You must like potatoes?”

Add in a few comments about drunkenness and that’s more or less the conversation I have with people I’ve met for the first time. We never go in-depth about potatoes, though, because who wants to talk about potatoes?

I do, actually.

Potato chips, slap chips, potato bake, baked potato, sweet potato, potato salad, roasted potato, microwaved potato, cheesy potatoes, hash browns, potato wedges… I love potatoes so much so that I wouldn’t not know where to start.

Over the years, potatoes have become personal signifiers of friendship, family and heritage.

As a child, my sweet tooth had not yet developed.  For birthday parties the kiddies table would be neat with a Lazy Susan filled with raw carrots, celery sticks, cucumber slices, baby corn and salted Lays potato chips that could be dipped in the most more-ish of salsas. After several rounds of Pin the Tail on the Donkey every famished four-year-old would focus on how many vegetables and yellow-baked goodness could fit into their wee mouths.

Six years later, myself and thousands of 10-year-olds had developed an unhealthy relationship with those flavourful Lays chippies. The introduction of Pokémon tazos was a wild time. My potato crisp intake was at dangerous proportions. Cravings were more about finding a Pikachu or a Brock tazo (was I the only one with a crush?) than the potato crisp experience. However, the obsession was short-lived, as I soon chopped up my entire collection up. Rumours of tazos being tools of the devil had been circulating, and being the daughter of two Methodist Ministers, the fear of satan made me act quick. These days, I’ll still indulge in a packet of sour cream & chives, but only every other month.

During my pre-teen days, my family visited Ireland in the early 2000s and we only had a few Euros to share among the three of us. The days were filled with green pastures, grazing sheep, Sainsbury shopping and many tours of heritage sites.  All that activity would burn a hole in our stomachs, and wallets – the only affordable nibblies were Tayto crisps going for 50 pence (roughly R6).  It sounds like a rough time – munching packets of chips because the exchange rate just hates Rands – but Taytos are incredible. Tayto is the epitome of a crisp: light in texture, large and oval in form, and seasoned enough that your fingers are left with the remnants of whatever flavour you bought.

Growing older, I got into the heavier dishes like Champ (brútín in Gaelic): melted butter, boiled and mashed “praties”, more butter, milk, spring onions and to top it off – butter. Basically glorified mashed potatoes, which get a bad rep for reasons unbeknownst to me. I once had a stoner-friend sing to me about how whack mashed potatoes were. Needless to say, we don’t talk any more.

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Reaching my twenties, the Irish jokes only increased, so I just went with the flow:

“Always drinking Guiness, ey?”

“Well, it is good for you and tastes great, so…”

“That potato famine, hey!?”

“Yes, it was pretty bad actually, but I’ll toast to my ancestors with a dish of [insert potato meal here].”

Come Saint Patrick’s Day and it would be declared by my digsmates that there was to be a Potato Party: “four friends and four potato dishes” was the logic. On the evening of the party, we had one starter: potato bread; two mains: potato curry and potato bake; and for dessert we had potato pie.

A month later we had another Potato Party, this time at a neighbouring digs. After seeing our little digs dinner on Facebook, more friends wanted in on the potato love.  It would be a celebration of love, and appreciation for the delicious, round, brown “shpud”. Posters were made, invites were sent – we were very serious.   

Now, I spend most Sundays with my love (the human one) outside, stacking the wood and fire lighters into the Weber. Sizzles of the wors fat dripping over the flames will be heard an hour later as he braai’s the meat to perfection. I’ll be inside making my signature party dish – Niamh’s famous potato salad. This involves layers of Blackwell mayo mixed into boiled, chunky potato bits with onions that have been fried in Kerrygold butter. Boiled eggs, of course, are then added. To finish it off, I’ll sprinkle generous amounts of chives on top.

Pa-te-da’s are wonderful and have given me many stories to tell and dishes to make. I thank the Peruvians for their discovery.

Things my Irish mother says aka Glossary:

Moreish:  so pleasant to eat that one wants more. A moreish aubergine dip.

Praties : Potatoes.

Pa-te-da’s: The way my mother pronounces potatoes.

Tayto: Potato crisp and snacks company, the third largest snack manufacturer in the UK.

Wee: Something small.

Shpud: Typically Shpud & Shteak, written the way some Irish people say it.

Niamh Walsh-Vorster is a Durban based independent photographer and freelance writer who liked pineapples before they were trendy.

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