A couple of weeks ago, a mostly beige photo went very viral.
Scottish journalist Ross McCafferty tweeted a picture of a "crunch box" – more commonly known as a "munchy box" – which is essentially an intimidatingly large pizza box full of various battered shapes, crowned with a 2 litre bottle of Irn-Bru. It's sold by East West Spice in Greenock, near Glasgow; is enough food to feed a family, at around 5,400 calories in total; costs a mere £10; and prompted measured responses on social media like: "No wonder so many Scots are fat and sick."
"A munchy box is a thing kebab shops up here have been doing for ten to 15 years," Ross explained, for the benefit of English softies like myself. "It's basically a pizza box filled with all kinds of stuff – usually chips, doner meat, pakoras, salad, naan bread, chicken wings… stuff like that."
In this particular take on the Scottish delicacy, you get: two battered pizza slices, battered cod, two battered sausages, two battered beef burger patties, some potato fritters, onion rings, chicken nuggets and a large chips. Strongly recommend if you're into cheap eats and coronary artery disease.
Having grown up with my Scottish mum weaning me off the teat and onto the chippy, but now living in London, disconnected from the source of one half of my DNA by an entire country full of fox-hunting weirdos, I thought there would be no better way to rediscover my Scottish identity than to eat twice my daily recommended calorie intake for internet content. Hope you're proud, mum!
Below, I'll take you through each step of the meal, and how it made my insides feel.
THE NUGGETS AND ONION RINGS, WHICH I ATE IN THE CAR ON THE WAY TO THE SEASIDE BECUSE THERE WAS NO ROOM TO EAT THE BOX IN THE CHIPPY AND I HADN'T EATEN ALL DAY IN PREPARATION FOR THIS MEAL SO WAS REALLY HUNGRY
But rewind: after a train, a plane and a drive to Greenock, I stepped up to the counter and laid down £13 – the weekday price – on what was advertised as a family-sized box (i.e. "do not eat an entire one to yourself, it is a Bad Idea"). After the encyclopaedia of fried food had been doused in a family-sized portion of salt, it was handed over. It weighed about the same as I imagine a dangerously fat child to weigh. Too heavy to hold in one hand for more than 30 seconds. I inhaled the nuggets and onion rings in about two minutes as we drove down to the pier, and was buzzing from all the salt and saturated goodness cascading into my veins.
How are your insides, Tom? Imagine salt as the culinary version of cocaine, which it kind of is (white, bad for your heart, your uncle Liam packs in as much as he can when your aunt's not looking). I felt like I'd just done a line of the highest grade bang-bang going. Some Pablo Escobatter shit (deeply sorry about that pun, I was just on a real high).
TWO BATTERED SAUSAGES
I double-fisted these two battered sausages with minimum fuss, and everything was right with the world. I've eaten a lot of anonymous battered food, and so far the contents of this box were right up there with some of the best anonymous battered food I've ever had!
How are your insides, Tom? Goddamn, this was such a rush, such a thrill. It felt like I'd just started a new game of Tetris and was neatly stacking my insides with golden fried Tetris blocks, and all the pieces were gently drifting into place, being happily gobbled up by my greedy stomach acid.
This was genuinely one of the best things I've ever tasted in my life. Crunchy, delicious batter encasing a soft, doughy pizza base, with little trickles of rich tomato sauce in each mouthful: 10/10, would consider opening a street food van called something annoying like "The Batter Bros", where I'd sell tempura-battered pizza slices to Evening Standard readers and be earnestly praised for it.
How are your insides, Tom? As delicious as the last battered behemoth was, I'd hit the wall. I really thought that by not eating anything before attempting this I'd be able to tackle it better, but I guess that's not how human biology works. My stomach was now starting to panic; the Crispy Tetris Tower was beginning to build itself up and up and up, towards freedom, towards sunlight.
BATTERED BURGER PATTIES
Nope. Sorry. Not having it. Did not enjoy these at all. Instantly realised my whole "rediscovering my Scottish roots" thing was just a pretension, and that actually I'm just a dickhead who travelled 700 miles for a takeaway. This thing looked like what I imagine Alan Brazil's heart to look like, and tasted like a fleshy air hockey puck.
How are your insides, Tom? I was feeling relatively angina-free before the deep-fried meat discs, but after one bite I became suddenly aware of my arteries in a way I never had been before.
This temporarily saved me. Because of the overwhelming amount of grease I'd had by this point, drinking a fizzy drink felt like I was violently rinsing my insides out with a chemical descaling agent, in a really good way.
How are your insides, Tom? Irn-Bru, as lifesaving as it was, instantly sent me into a fit of uncontrollable burping. Non-stop, b2b burps. Every mouthful, a little tiny belch. Every movement, a flutter in my belly. Every breath, more ammunition for the chemical warfare going on around my lips.
Just a fuck-off bit of fish, isn't it. Good, though. Still, I was gagging and/or retching on some of the bigger bites by this point.
How are your insides, Tom? Haha, just going to ignore that pain in my left arm x
*CHIPS*CHIPS*CHIPS*CHIPS* (AND POTATO FRITTERS)
While eating this meal, there was a constant bass-kick of chips to contend with, a techno beat of stodge pounding away at my already beleaguered mouth.
Like listening to techno, I didn't really notice much re: the chips. They just sorted of blended in with everything, a metronome subconsciously guiding me through my meal. But when I stopped and thought about it, I realised I'd actually been eating chips, the whole time, with everything.
Ah, some nuggets!
Ooh, some sausage!
Wow, how tasty is this pizza, bet it would go great with some…
As the euphoric high synth stabs of the fried meats faded away, all that was left were the dull, repetitive kick-drums of chips, looping over and over, a Tresor fever dream in potato form. By the end, the pile had become impenetrable. I couldn't make a dent. Fritters were good, though.
How are your insides, Tom? I'd probably done a Creamfields' worth of damage to my body, but fucking hell, I almost finished it; I was only one disgusting battered burger and a few chips off.
I'm still burping uncontrollably and keep getting this uncomfortable fluttering sensation in my general chest area, but I'm sure that's nothing to worry about!