Nowadays, I normally eat and write about “good” food, dishes I wouldn’t mind spending a few hours cooking or a week’s salary paying for. But there was once a simpler time when my parents would make dinner, when I didn’t know how to build a fond or julienne carrots or even use a knife correctly. A time when I didn’t know or care who Bobby Flay was.
But it was still a time when I enjoyed food for more than just something that made me feel full. Lunch during middle school was always a mad dash for the junk-line. What you ate was no longer a way to feed a desire but was also a matter of status, and I couldn’t be caught dead eating from the regular school lunch menu anymore. In hindsight, waiting more than half the lunch period to get the chance to buy a Snickers bar or some nachos wasn’t the smartest idea, especially when the regular line was so much quicker. But the junk-line was where I discovered what still remains some of my favorite foods: giant pretzels with nacho cheese, Hot Cheetos and, most importantly, Funyuns.
Most of all, I’d like to thank my 13-year-old self for waiting in that line to buy Funyuns. Not just because they taste really good — because they do — but also because they taught me how to challenge my beliefs about what I ate and cooked.
After all, if you think about it, Funyuns are really, really weird. They sort of taste like onions; they vaguely look and smell like onions. They’re even marketed as “onion flavored rings,” but my friends and I weren’t fooled. We spent endless hours sitting around playing Pokemon cards and Yu-Gi-Oh!, while trying to figure out what they actually were because there was no real way they were actually made from onions. I didn’t know why we just didn’t look on the back of the package because the ingredients are right there.
The three primary ingredients are “Enriched Corn Meal, Corn and/or Soybean Oil and Salt.” That sounds like the most generic crunchy snack food you could ever make, and it is. The ingredients list for Frito’s regular corn chips reads almost exactly the same: “Corn, Corn Oil and Salt.” Funyuns don’t even get anything interesting until the fifth ingredient, where you start to see things like onion powder, garlic powder, buttermilk, sugar, something labeled ‘spices’ and, my ever favorite, monosodium glutamate.
But despite the seemingly ordinary ingredient composition of my favorite chips, they illustrate the ability to do something creative with some pretty common (for a giant snack food company) ingredients with just tiny bits of seasoning. So next time you find yourself cooking, think of the lowly Funyun.
Try to follow the ‘Funyun philosophy’ of cooking. Why eat just white rice when you can throw in some chicken broth, butter and beer? You can get something you’re going to enjoy much more for an extra minute and a half of work opening some cans and pouring some liquids into the rice cooker.
Coors Light tastes horrible on its own, but put it in some curry and it actually makes everything taste better.
Sure, you might only have a lonely chicken breast, but with a little help in the form of some bacon and spinach you can have some chicken cordon bleu.
The next dinner you have to cook for yourself, don’t just settle for some Top Ramen or Kraft Easy Mac. Do something a little more exciting, even if it turns out not quite palatable. You’ll learn a little bit about cooking, and it’ll only make the next time even better.