Why Eating Cannabis-Infused Shrimp Chips With My Mom Was Shockingly Great
Felicity Chen started Potli to create food that makes people feel good.
Before this week, I had never eaten edibles with my mom. Throughout my childhood, she emphasized the dangers of drug use and repeated the things she was taught—how “marijuana may have addictive qualities” and “can cause permanent psychological damage.” I was strictly a D.A.R.E. kid up until I was 16, when I began skipping soccer practice to go smoke weed with friends. Every time my mom would visit me at college and get a whiff of marijuana’s signature skunky scent, she would remind me not to associate with other students partaking in nefarious drug-related activities—not realizing I was one of them.
So imagine my surprise, a whole decade later when my mom began growing marijuana in her backyard greenhouse for an auntie of mine who suffers from insomnia. And imagine the even bigger surprise when my mom agreed to eat edibles with me for this story. What changed?
For starters, my mom witnessed the benefits cannabis provided for my aunt, who was, for the first time in a long time, sleeping comfortably through the night. Additionally, the edible I offered her felt approachable: crispy shrimp chips fried in a cannabis-infused olive oil.
“It’s a format that’s not scary,” explains Felicity Chen, the founder of cannabis food company Potli. “It’s not like a pill that you have to take or something you have to inhale. A joint is pretty foreign to someone who never smokes or never does anything ‘bad’ or whatever.”
Shrimp chips are a common snack food served throughout Asia, made from a blend of minced shrimp, tapioca flour, and seasonings of choice (Potli’s has sugar, starch, salt, garlic powder, and MSG). The shrimp chips from Potli arrive in colorful packaging reminiscent of the classic Calbee bags, with comic book dots in a coral pink hue adorning the pouches.
Before Chen made cannabis-infused shrimp chips, she began with a pantry staple that’s been around for hundreds of years: honey. “My dad started [beekeeping] for my mom because hyper-local honey is really good for your allergies and asthma,” Chen explains. “And I knew there was no way my mom was ever going to smoke weed with me because of her asthma, [even though] she could really benefit from it. So our first idea was, ‘Why don’t we just put some weed into this honey?’”
The weed-infused honey was a success—and is still currently being made with honey from Chen’s dad’s backyard in the Bay Area. “It was important for us to think about transparency and how we’re sourcing,” Chen says. “All of [our] ingredients are sourced from California, mostly from Northern California, because that’s where I was born and raised. And the cannabis, of course, is sun-grown from the Emerald triangle because only in Northern California do we even have access to plants being planted straight into the soil, terroir, all these things.”
The honey is also what attracted one of Chen’s team members to Potli to begin with. “Her grandma did not sleep for 10 days. She was doing her research and that’s how she found us, and she gave her grandma the dream honey, and it was the first time in 10 days that her grandma slept.”
“There’s no one creating edibles in the way that we've been thinking of.”
Similarly to the honey, the bag of shrimp chips proudly proclaims that the chips are “Grandma approved.” The olive oil used to fry the shrimp chips are also a part of Potli’s pantry line that includes chili oil, Sriracha, and apple cider vinegar. In fact, the chips were invented during a Lunar New Year gathering by Kevin Madrigal, a chef and friend of Chen’s, who saw some leftover olive oil as a perfect opportunity for frying. Party goers who ate the chips, including Madrigal himself, left in a state of bliss—which confirmed to Chen they had a great new product on their hands that directly reflected her own identity.
“There’s no one creating edibles in the way that we've been thinking of,” Chen grins. “We are a small business. We have six women on our team, we work our butts off, but there is [no way] any other very, very large cannabis company that has a lot of cash, operated by white men, can just come in and make whatever we’re making. You can’t take our identity from us. You can’t take our culture away from us.”
Chen knows exactly how to create products that are parent-approved, seeing as she had to also win over her own parents, who operated an Asian sauces and spice business while she was growing up (the business, Chen says, was definitely influential to her own work at Potli now).
“My mom [wanted] to make sure I wasn’t going to hurt people and was worried about the stigma of cannabis hurting people,” Chen says. “And I’m like, the whole point, mom, is we’re trying to help people hack their health through food. This is just like any other food, in fact it’s a super food and it’s helped you, and it’s helped many people with their sleep and stress, especially through this super traumatic time.”
So not only are the shrimp chips grandma-approved and approved by Chen’s parents, they’re also now Thai mom-approved. Our shrimp chips arrived in an original and spicy flavor. The former’s aroma was familiar to my mom, who grew up snacking on shrimp chips and views it as a fun bar food to be dipped in roasted chili jam. She said the latter had a tongue-tingling mala effect (although she also agrees that her tongue might have felt a bit numb from being high).
Actually crunching on the shrimp chips is a delightful experience, and if it weren’t for the dosing—which clocks in at around one milligram per chip—my mom and I both agreed we would have finished the whole bag in a single sitting. The shrimp chips have crunch and yet still remain airy in a way that reminds me of puffed corn, thanks to how tapioca flour expands in hot oil. The sweetness of prawns is prevalent throughout and balanced by the garlic powder and MSG (and the spicy version really does have a mala-like heat). For those who want a chill experience but don't actually want to get high, Potli also sells a CBD version.
Consuming a mere three chips of the spicy version left me completely stoned and forced me to crawl into bed, euphoric and sleepy. The original I ate more of and still remain functional enough to carry a conversation and string words together for work. My mom relayed that the original version felt stronger to her, and that the experience itself left her mind a little bit foggy but overall happy and undeniably giggly.
“Now that people are saying cannabis isn’t bad, I can see how it helps people,” my mom admits, and regales me with stories about eating cannabis in green curries and soups when she was a kid in Thailand. In fact, Thailand is now one of the first countries in Southeast Asia to decriminalize medicinal marijuana.
“I don’t think it’s bad now,” my mom smiles, before turning back to Thai cooking videos and hair braiding tutorials on YouTube. “Just don’t eat too much.”