"I started to rationalize why it might be OK..."

When I started reporting this story, I considered Flamin Hot chips a youngster’s culinary phenomenon. Certainly not something that this 43-year-old, whole-food-eating, farmers-market-loving, scratch-cooking food policy writer would ever want in her belly.

But that was before I tried my first Taki.

While waiting for potential Flamin Hot interviewees to get out of school one day, Tribune photographer John Kim and I were killing time at a convenience store. John was intrigued by Flamin Hot rival Takis Fuego. He bought a bag of the bright red, deep fried, rolled tortilla snacks and offered me one. 

Holy smokes! This crunchy, limey, spicy, corny snack delivered the same blend of flavors and textures that I love in fresh Vietnamese, Mexican and Thai salads -- but they came with an extra crunch and a satisfying dose of fat. All in one convenient purple bag.

When our interviews were over, John pushed the bag into my hands noting my obvious affection for them. I accepted them with deep reservations.

Just a couple more and I’ll throw the bag away, I thought. But after each delicious Taki, my taste buds were urging me to grab just one more even if it meant having to wipe all that red stuff from my hand again.

As I drove and ate, I started to rationalize why it might be OK for me to buy just one bag a week -- something about how they’re not so different from chiles, lime and tortillas or those corn nuts I used to eat in college or the spicy Japanese-style peanuts I get from Latino stores. 

When I got home I rolled up what was left of the 4 serving bag and put it on high shelf in my cupboards so I could think about this rationally.

Luckily, it wasn’t long before I started to feel strangely queasy and jittery. I eat a lot of chiles and lime but my system is not used to foods that come with long ingredient lists attached to them. Something in that purple bag did not agree with me -- at least not in the quantities I consumed.

I managed to leave the rest of the bag alone. But when I get beyond the memory of the queasiness, I can still remember just how fantastic those first few dozen Takis tasted and can easily understand the appeal they hold for their legions of fans—young and old.

-- Monica Eng

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