Popcorn, schmopcorn. In the Philippines, we have cornicks: snacks of corn that are semi-popped and/or fried, similar to American corn nuts but generally smaller, crunchier, and most often flavored with garlic. You can find cornicks from small, independent brands sold at pasalubong shops or at sari-sari stores around the country—but also those from bigger, commercialized players available at the supermarket. Who does it best?
Bawang na Bawang
Within a bag of this relatively obscure cornick brand are uneven-sized, odd-shaped pieces of fried corn. They’re on the hard and crunchy end, with more pieces containing hulls that make it a pain on the molars to chew on. Coming on the salty side, it exhibits a loosely meaty-tasting umami-dominant flavor profile, sharpened by garlic (you’ll also find fried cloves scattered in the mix) which makes an impact in such a way that you know it’s there—without it taking over. Each bite ends with a distinct touch of heat that we didn’t see coming, but which we learned to love as we take in more helpings.
Saltiness: 4/5 | Garlickyness: 4/5 | Crunch: 4.5/5
This classic cornick player remains to be a popular choice, and for good reason. It stands out from the other brands with its relatively light (and more consistently puffy) kernels that still make for a most satisfying crunch—without being too hard on the teeth. It smells strongly of garlic but comes on the surprisingly mellow, not-too-pungent, just-salty-enough side, with occasional garlic flakes thrown into the mix. A hint of pepper gives it a good zing before it concludes with a slight sweetness that has us back for more handfuls before we realize we’ve gone through the whole bag.
Saltiness: 3/5 | Garlickyness: 3.5/5 | Crunch: 3/5
Corn Bits features relatively consistently puffy kernels—somewhat like Boy Bawang albeit to a lesser degree, with a number of pieces being oddly-shaped. It feels harder and crunchier, with a deeper, more robust toastiness to its kernel base. This helps it stand up to its strong seasoning, it coming toward the very salty side and hitting the tongue with the brawny, full-on pungent thrum of garlic. It can be overpowering (especially if you’re going for large helpings) but in small doses, it makes for a great, flavorful bite that definitely wakes the taste buds up.
Saltiness: 4.5/5 | Garlickyness: 5/5 | Crunch: 4/5
Like Corn Bits, Super Bawang also hails from the W.L. Foods brand with the exact same ingredient list—thus leading us to wonder if they were in fact just one and the same product (if anything, Super Bawang claims to be “natural garlic”-flavored while Corn Bits goes by “super garlic”). Super Bawang seems to have a higher ratio of odd-shaped to puffy pieces though, and harder hulls that surpass those from Bawang na Bawang. The seasoning tastes more or less similar to Corn Bits with its strong, garlicky punch, but a tad saltier, ending with a strongly MSG-tasting, umami finish.
Saltiness: 5/5 | Garlickyness: 5/5 | Crunch: 5/5
The Verdict: Boy Bawang
Each brand carries its own strong points; we were especially torn between Bawang na Bawang’s 3-dimensional heat-filled profile, Boy Bawang’s easier-to-chew-on puffiness, and Corn Bits and Super Bawang’s strong, robust garlicky punch. But we came to the realization that more is not always better; in this case, Boy Bawang’s relative mellowness—not only in texture but in potency of flavor—works to its advantage, compelling us to go back for more and more and building up the garlic gradually to a full-on impact without overpowering the senses.