In Underrated, we review the ordinary rituals we build around food. Next up: eating chips after a night out. 

This story is part of Junk Food, Redefined, our new collection of snack recommendations, recipes, and perspectives that celebrate an undervalued food group. Read all the stories here.

Chips-eating falls into a pair of distinct categories: the chips you eat before going out and the chips you eat after returning home. Before Chips are the foundation of a good life. You eat them everywhere. These are your sandwich-and-a-side chips at the deli and your meal-ruining chips before dinner and the chips you eat a few minutes after 11 a.m. because it’s already practically lunch so why not? These are the chips you scoop into your mouth four hours into a road trip. The chips you share at a picnic. Most chips are Before Chips. These chips are perfectly fine. But they lack something only After Chips can provide: a ritual so sublime I hesitate to share it in public.

Imagine this: You’re about to leave the best party you’ve been to all year. Some buddies rented out a full bar and played Lykke Li remixes on repeat (before you say anything, this is my fantasy). All drinks were on them. You saw childhood friends visiting from out of town, you learned some gossip about a nemesis that made you tingle with validation and joy, you laughed in ways you forgot you could laugh. A snort! Who knew that you snorted! And, as you’re zipping your jacket and waving goodbye, you know the best part of your night is only a few minutes away. Why? Because you’re going home to eat chips.

Sure, you could stop at McDonalds for chicken nuggets or roll into a 24-hour diner for an omelet the size of the moon. But for me, the true pleasure of a long evening out is returning home, swinging open the kitchen cupboard, and burying my arm in a bag of chips.

After Chips don’t serve to sate hunger; rather, they’re the final, indulgent leap from waking world to sleep.

On the best nights, I find two bags in the cabinet, one responsibly clipped and the other still puffed from its factory sealing. At this hour, reckless and tipsy, I become a true connoisseur, eager for only the freshest quality chip. I open the unopened bag. The scent wafts out like a genie: vinegar tang, cumin-y barbecue, a down comforter of cheddar, or, my favorite, the simplicity of a crinkle-cut salt and pepper. Three chips in, it hits me that I should have washed my hands before eating—so I take a break, and, by the time my hands dry, my partner is in the kitchen beside me, changed out of her going-out clothes, her arms taking turns with mine in the bag.

The ceremony of After Chips—especially if you’re in a relationship—is a vital experience. Any relationship can benefit from After Chips: roommates, friends, parent and child. In the kitchen, standing in sweatpants and passing chips back and forth, I finally gain a perspective on the night. Here, my partner might comment on the ostentatious shirt worn by the guy sitting at the table beside us—munch munch “Somebody went to Dan Flashes” munch—or I might reflect on an idea spouted by my friend’s new partner Mel—munch “She can’t really think space travel will save us, right?” munch. We definitely both saw how the server was looking at my partner’s friend Carolyn, and we thought it was interesting—very interesting—that Carolyn stuck behind after we left. But you know what? Carolyn deserves it—she’s overdue for a win, for a fun night with a server, who, yeah, we noticed, is totally smoking. Honestly, good for her. Munch munch.

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