We review the entire country and culture of New Zealand, one thing at a time. Today, Tara Ward taste-tests the best hot chips in the country.
Everyone loves a hot chip because they’re a) hot, and b) a chip, but there’s nothing more disappointing than a bad chip experience. A flaccid, overcooked piece of spud can ruin your day, nay, ruin your life. So when I heard Ōkato Takeaways in Taranaki had won the Chip Group judges’ supreme award of 2019, I was more excited than that time in 2013 when I got three battered pieces of fish for my dinner, even though I’d only ordered one.
If Ōkato Takeaways officially makes the best chips in Aotearoa, then I needed to find out what victory tastes like. This was my chance to fall in love with the humble potato all over again, to offer it my final rose, to come face to face with my tattie destiny. Or maybe just eat some nice hot chips, let’s not get too carried away.
Ōkato is a village of about 500 people, 25 minutes’ drive south of New Plymouth. Outside the fish and chip shop sits a blackboard with “welcome to the national winner” written in faded chalk, with a charming picture of a fish lying seductively on a bed of chips on the shop window. I hadn’t even gone in yet, and I was impressed beyond measure.
“I’m here to try some of your award-winning chips,” I announced, too loudly, to the staff member behind the counter. She scoffed a little. Was she sick of dickhead townies coming to Ōkato on some misguided chip lark, suddenly fancying themselves as Michelin-level potato connoisseurs? Too late, it’s me and I’m starving. “The new owners took over two weeks ago,” she said. “We’re training the staff, and I’m just filling in.”
Evidently, the chips would have to speak for themselves. I could have ordered garlic chips, kūmara chips or the legendary Cheezy Wheezy chips, a magical concoction topped with relish, sour cream and “stuff”, but I’m a purist. I ordered one scoop of regular chips, and waited for the magic to happen.
Ōkato Takeaways loves chips, worshipping them as all chips should be worshipped. Posters of fries cover the walls and counters, my favourite a delightful multi-language poster of chips with tiny cartoon faces. “Use the good oil!” the chips grin. “Not too much salt!” frowns another. “Thick chips are best chips!” one salty fellow says, with a cheeky wink. Stand down, I think I just met my soulmate.
My order was ready in a few short minutes. I watched as the Chip Genius took the basket out of the fryer and banged the bejesus out of it. “Drain off the excess oil!” I heard the ghost chips of past cry. After tipping them into a brown paper bag, she passed me my precious parcel, which was overflowing with the sexiest hot chips I’ve ever seen. I swear I heard choirs of angels begin to sing.
Outside, I ripped open the bag to reveal the chips were sitting inside a paper pottle. A pottle! It just kept getting better. Never a finer word, never a finer tater. The chips spilled on to the table, all golden and sultry and delicious, like a little potato sunrise. Steam wafted out. They smelled incredible like heaven would if God had a deep fat fryer.
I chose the thickest chip and took a bite. These were, no exaggeration, the best hot chips I’ve ever had.
Every single one was firm and crisp on the outside, and a delicious, feathery pillow of tattie goodness inside. There were no soggy fries, no burnt ones, no runts of this chippy litter to be found. These chips were the real deal that melted in the mouth, all hot and salty and glorious, and I hoovered down the entire packet in record time. I could feel my arteries hardening with every bite, but I didn’t care. Victory never tasted so good.
Verdict: Perfection in a pottle.
Good or bad: So good you’ll wish you were a fish lying on a bed of hot chips.