Welcome to Return of the Snack, a column evaluating snacks and entertaining the thoughts that arise while eating and shopping for them.
I once saw someone I envy shopping dejectedly at Trader Joe’s after work on a Tuesday. He was wearing headphones and, like me, appeared worn out by the mere idea of feeding and caring for the corporeal forms we haul through life until they betray us by ending it all in one final act of rebellion. He shuffled through the aisles a few feet ahead of me and I felt a profound calm wash over me. We aren’t so different after all, are we? My point: Trader Joe’s is the great equalizer.
While my brilliant compatriots often write about perfect transitional outfits for the hazy time between summer and fall, I am here to make the case that dip is the perfect transitional weather food. In my below pièce de résistance, I will address the various dips that take you from summer to fall, but also the essence of “dip” itself. I chose Trader Joe’s because it’s a national chain with good prices and a storied snack reputation and I am hoping to do my part to heal our fractured nation with some relatable food content. (Wish me luck.)
I tried five dips with four different vessels—a spoon, baby carrots, pita chips, and blue corn tortilla chips. The right vessel can make a dip sing and the wrong chip can make a dip ding. I ranked them on a straightforward 1-10 scale for general taste and quality. Let’s begin, shall we?
Based on the name, I thought I would love this dip, but I’ve got to say I was disappointed. It was more yogurt-y than everything bagel-y and I was tempted to add more seasoning but did not want to compromise the integrity of the experiment.
Tortilla chip: 4
Carrot: 3 (slimy again)
Pita chip: 4.5 (the hefty crunch of the pita chip added some substance to the experience, but it was still pretty bland)
This dip is less of a snack and more of a lesson. It serves as a reminder not to build something up in your head, setting it up to meet near-impossible standards only to be disappointed. It’s also a reminder that just because something may be amazing in one arena (everything seasoning on bagels), it doesn’t mean it will rock in a different one (everything seasoning in this cursed dip), but that’s okay (I still love everything seasoning).
Final word: I completely forgot I even tried this dip until I went back on the TJ’s website to check something.
If possible, do not buy your guacamole from Trader Joe’s—buy it from a restaurant (or be a hero and make it yourself). But if that’s expensive or the effort required to get the good stuff is far greater than your desire to show up somewhere with guacamole, then this will do just fine. This is a good utility guac: more condiment than dip in that it’s better served as an accent to something than a stand-alone star. Unfortunately it knows that any guac is better than no guac, so it really phones the flavor in.
Spoon: Strong 5
Tortilla chip: 7
Pita chip: 4
Though eaten year-round by me and most people I know, guacamole has a height-of-summer vibe, like margaritas on a patio when the sun is only beginning to fade at 8 p.m. It is best when eaten outside, perhaps because exposure to the elements only hastens its demise and we are a culture obsessed with youth. Guacamole is fleeting, like summer itself. That said, indoor guac has the distinct tone of “we’re going to try our best, damn it,” making it the ideal transitional snack for only the most melancholy among us.
Final word: I mean, it’s guacamole.
This dip is straight-forward, pretty much what you’d expect: cooling, tangy, delicious. As a midwesterner, my allegiances will always lie with a cream-based dip, so I’m inclined to like this bad boy (though it can’t hold a candle to the ultimate dip base: cream cheese). I wish I had more to say about this, but it’s simply a good dip. Maybe not the only dip you’d want to serve to guests, but a good one nevertheless.
Tortilla chip: 6.5
Carrot: 6 (kind of slimy together)
Pita chip: 7 (a slimy dip deserves a thick chip, these two get each other)
This is a solid transition dip because it’s a standalone item but really sings as an accompaniment to hot food. It balances out spice. You can eat it on your stoop with some chips and a glass of white on Monday when it’s 83 and dollop it on some lamb three days later when it’s dipped below 70. It’s the tank tops of dips, good on its own, good under a layer. I feel so supported by this dip, and hope you will too.
Final word: Maybe not a dip you’d break out to wow a crowd, but it’s nice to have around.
Challenge: turn ground-up almonds into a dip that doesn’t taste like almond butter. If this were the Great British Bake-Off and this dip were put in front of me, Prue Leith, first of all, my glasses would match my outfit, but second of all, I would say, “Hmmmm… a bit unexpected but the lemon really comes through.” I couldn’t get a handle on whether I like this dip. I thought mmmmmm, and then weird, and then not bad, and then just kept eating it, but not voraciously. Maybe this mysteriousness is what kept me going? It’s a bit like what I always imagined eating floam to be like.
Spoon: Sometimes a 4, sometimes a 7!
Tortilla chip: 6
Carrot: 4 (this is really unfair to carrots, stacking them up against real chips like this)
Pita chip: 5
What a mystery this dip is. So many things at once, full of contradictory statements and messages, mixing the familiar and the foreign. This dip isn’t good for fall, it is fall itself.
Final word: Would not buy again, but glad I experienced it. Kind of how I imagine I would feel about sky-diving if I ever did it.
What I wanted was hot dip. What I wanted was multiple hot dips, ready-made and easy to heat, filling my house with buttery rich scents just begging to be remembered for months to come. As I walked down the aisles of not one but two different Trader Joe’s, all I could find in the way of heat-ability was this spinach and artichoke dip. It’s good, it’s so good. I think it might be the best of the frozen spinach and artichoke dips I’ve experienced. I want some now.
Tortilla chip: 10 (the perfect couple, the Courtney B. Vance and Angela Basset of snacks)
Carrot: 7 (I’m so sorry carrots, but also eating this dip on carrots is better than not eating this dip, so it gets a 7)
Pita chip: 10 (another perfect snack couple)
Hot dips are the transitional weather MVP. They straddle the sweet memories of summer spent around a shared bowl with the promise of cozy snacking nights to come. As football season starts and holiday parties loom on the horizon, a hot dip says, “Who cares if dairy makes you bloat? You’re wearing a big sweater.” And thank god for that.
Final word: I considered making the 30-minute trek back to TJ’s when I finished this just to get some more.