Each year, as the Super Bowl approaches, I’m always thrilled for invites to parties, but not because of the crowd, the comradery, or the commercials—and certainly not because of the football. Rather, as I pull out my Pyrex and check my stock of garlic powder, I smile because this national holiday to modern gladiatorial combat, this sacred celebration of snacking, is the one time when I can guzzle down gallons of dip without a lick of shame. And I am here to remind you that you can and should join me!
A concoction of creamy fat styled with intense seasoning and textural flourishes (and only ever the simulacra of “real” food), dip is a true American art form. It could be a packet of Lipton onion soup mix stirred into a container of sour cream (perhaps the ur-dip!), a jar of salsa whipped with a block of softened cream cheese, or a handful of parmesan combined with mayonnaise and artichoke hearts—as long as there is an abundance of lipids laced with an addictive flavor agent and something salty (or fine, vegetably) to pick it all up, there is truly no wrong way to go.
However, I am sad to say that some people like to try and make dip complicated. Arguments rage over the merits of shredded chicken, onion, or spinach, the ratio of cheese to mayonnaise, or if low-fat options should be considered. (They should not.) Is this the year that we try to melt down blocks of aged Vermont cheddar with personally pickled peppers rather than rely on the stalwart Velveeta and Rotel? How much better would this buffalo chicken dip be if I sous vided a free-range chicken breast rather than popping open a can? (Yep, chicken comes in a can!) But these thirsty attempts at nuance and prestige completely miss the point.
Dip isn’t high culture, it’s pop. It’s low art of the purest fashion, a simple combination of gloopy ingredients meant to satisfy the basest urges of human hunger—a communal experience for all to embrace. In a world blessed with dip, we don’t have to feign passion for laborious bacon-wrapped dates or endive boats with goat cheese and pear preserves. Dip is a revolt against the tyranny of fancy hors d’oeuvres and impressive presentations. A fine dip, with its bubbling calories and carb-y conveyances, drags the snobs willingly into the delicious muck the rest of us love to eat.
As a child, my favorite dip was just a block of cream cheese covered in a thick layer of Jamaican Pickapeppa sauce. That’s it. People new to my family’s ways would balk at first, confused as to why we were scooping thick chunks of the stuff onto crackers and into our maws. Confused, that is, until they took they took the first bite. Then I’d be heading to the fridge to see if we had another box of Philadelphia.
OK! Dip is indeed the perfect food, you say. So true. But is there some perfect dip out there? One ideal recipe we should all attempt on this most hallowed of Sundays? Honestly, no. And that’s what’s so freeing! Every dip there is and every dip there will ever be has a chance to be perfect. This weekend, I’m making a hot and creamy spinach dip, but truly any odd combination of pantry staples following the fat+flavor(+texture) formula can ascend the ladder of taste bud excellence. I don’t think Samin Nosrat ever realized when writing or filming Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat that the true culmination of her culinary expertise could be summed up in this one dish. Put down that sour orange glazed focaccia, Samin, and join me over here by the dip!
And the rest of you can come too. This year, during the Super Bowl, don’t waste your time worrying about if your cheese plate has the best combination of soft and hard cheeses, or if you should have served melba toast instead of Ruffles. Just lose yourself in the gooey goodness of whatever dip you’ve prepared, and leave your pretensions and inhibitions to be trampled by whichever stampeding mob of fans feels like “they won” a game they didn’t play.