Nothing piques my curiosity like the junk food of other lands. The first time I went to Canada, I was excited to visit an all-nite grocery and wander the snack aisle, and one item in particular made me jealous: curry-flavored potato chips. The spicy-sweet heat of curry? The addictive crunch of potato chips? A nutritional value of roughly zero? Count me in! I almost smuggled a bag through customs, only to picture myself getting roughed up Midnight Express-style by Quebecois goons. It was as good an excuse as any to down the bag. I passed through the checkpoint with trembling orange fingers.
So fate brought me to the doorstep of Spice of India, the small but enticing Indian market in Cool Springs right beside the new Bombay Bistro. There, near the refrigerator case of bottled single-serving mango lasses, stood a display of various exotic chips and snack items. And there I made the acquaintance of my latest junk-food BFF, Kurkure.
Kurkure is the Hindi word for "crunchy," and the namkeen (salty snack food) that bears its name doesn't lie. Frito-Lay, that fine purveyor of Southeast Asian cuisine, has been producing Kurkure overseas since 1999, and it's become one of India's top snack foods. According to one source, it just became available in the U.S. a couple of years ago, as proof of the growing acclimation of Western palates to Indian spices.
Smart move. The flavor I tried--a $1.99 bag of Kurkure Masala Munch--was essentially Flamin' Hot Cheetos with the brakes off the spices. Made with rice flour, the "tedha shaped" snacks look and crunch just like Cheetos (not the puff variety). But the masala spice mix has a more complex flavor: in particular, an addictively bittersweet, slightly citrussy aftertaste and a strong but pleasant cumulative burn. I'll be going back to see if Spice of India carries other flavors such as Red Chilli Chatka, Xtreme Risky Chilli, Angry Tomatoes, Desi Beats, and the irresistible Xtreme Electric Nimbu.
But evidently there is trouble in paradise. An urban legend that Kurkure contains plastic is apparently so widespread that people have actually lit them on fire. Indeed, an entire website, Kurkure Facts, exists just to defend the snack's reputation with a two-pronged attack, alternating appeals to reason ("Kurkure Is Safe, Kurkure Does Not Contain Plastic") and desire ("Do Not Say No to Kurkure Chilli Chatka").
No ambassador for Kurkure, however, could top the product's official website. By all means check out the jokes section ("ONCE UPON A TIME A MAN WAS WALKING UPSIDE DOWN OUT OF THE TOWN IN A GOWN AND HE FELL IN A HOLE HIT A POLE AND MAY GOD GIVE REST TO HIS SOUL. SMILE"), the "Paq-Man" game and the recipes. But frankly, at this point if I found out Kurkure were made from recycled six-pack rings, I'd just chew a little more carefully. At least I know they'd pass through a Canadian metal detector.