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At the start of my workday, my boss asked me if I’d be interested in trying some potato chips that taste like o-toro, the extra fatty tuna that’s a highly prized sushi ingredient. Looking at the clock, I calculated that it had been about 14 hours since I’d had sushi for dinner, and since that’s honestly about two hours longer than I like to go without eating some of Japan’s most famous culinary creation, I solemnly accepted the mission.

But while I’d already experienced potato chips inspired by fine American cuisine, I’d never had sashimi-flavored ones, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, even before I discovered the other big surprise waiting for me.

After a quick business trip to the snack aisle of the local grocery store, I had a bag of the o-toro chips sitting on my desk. Priced at a nice, even 100 yen (US$0.80), they’re an attractive choice for people who’re in the mood for some chips, but not to count out small change.

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Since they’re made by potato chip giant Calbee, I figured they’d be at the very least passable in terms of flavor. Something about the packaging struck me as strange, though. Even though the bag was the same characteristic pinkish red as a slice of o-toro, there wasn’t a single picture of a fish to be found anywhere. Instead, there was an illustration of wasabi, soy sauce, and sliced avocado.

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Suddenly worried that I’d bought the wrong chips, I read the label again, and only then did I noticed that the official name of the product is “This…Tastes Like O-toro?”

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See, even though gourmands rave about the taste of o-toro, it’s pretty expensive. In reasonably priced revolving sushi joints, a two-piece plate of o-toro will often set you back 500 yen or more, and things only get pricier at classier restaurants. That’s why some people try to replicate the flavor of o-toro (or its less expensive but still premium brethren toro and chu-toro) with cheaper foodstuffs. One of the more well-known strategies holds that if you take a slice of avocado and dip it into a dish of soy sauce with wasabi mixed in (like you would with a piece of sushi), it’ll taste just like o-toro.

Looking at the list of ingredients confirmed this, as the chips contain avocado, wasabi, and soy powder, but no high-grade tuna. But hey, it’s not like Calbee is being deceptively coy or anything, since even the front of the bag is emblazoned with “Soy sauce X avocado X wasabi.”

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I still haven’t been able to fully suppress the memory of the aggressively pungent fish-based desserts I ate last month, but thankfully the chips don’t smell like the tuna they’re trying to simulate the taste of. They do smell similar to Calbee’s popular shrimp chips, though, and while they’re not as intense in aroma as those crustacean-sourced snacks, I wouldn’t recommend opening up a bag of This…Tastes Like O-toro? on public transportation.

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There’s nothing fishy, or suspicious, about the way the chips look. As a matter of fact, if you had a stuffy nose, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell them apart from plain potato chips before popping one in your mouth. But if you were blindfolded and bit into This…Tastes Like O-toro?, would you really think you were eating mysteriously crunchy o-toro?

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▼ This…

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▼ …tastes like…

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…barbecue potato chips?!?

Yes, somehow mixing soy sauce, avocado, and wasabi produces an effect pretty close to the barbecue flavor of chips you can get in the U.S. It’s not an exact match, though. This…Tastes Like O-toro? is a little less sweet, and the wasabi gives its spice a stronger kick. Still, the overall effect is a lot closer to barbecue than o-toro, and not really anything like you’d expect from how the chips smell.

They’re actually pretty tasty, but sadly won’t do much to help quell your craving for sushi, so I decided to bring in a pinch hitter. Being too cheap to splurge on actual o-toro, I instead grabbed some tekkamaki, tuna sushi rolls, and started alternating bites of hosomakizushi and chips.

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Although this had the upside of filling my stomach with not one, but two delicious foods, it sadly didn’t do anything to draw out more of an o-toro flavor from the chips. Hmm…maybe the trick to getting them to taste like sushi is to eat them like sushi?

▼ Into the soy and wasabi with you!

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Actually, all that does is make the chips saltier and spicier than they start out as.

So in the end, I really can’t say This…Tastes Like O-toro? tastes like o-toro, or even that it tastes like it tastes like o-toro, if we’re following its mission statement to the letter. They’re still a perfectly good snack, though, and while they may not be much of a substitute for expensive sushi, they might be just the thing for expats in Japan who’re missing the barbecue-flavored comforts of home.

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