Hoptellectual: A Personal Journey From Ketchup to Catsup

I loathe ketchup. Everything about it. It taints the presentation of a good meal, bathing it in B-level horror blood. It overwhelms natural flavors. It disrupts the cook’s intent for your food, and even stands in nicely as a back-handed compliment. It beckons to the laziness in all of us, much in the same way that Sriracha does.* My respect for a person inversely correlates quite well with how much ketchup they use on anything, even eggs and potatoes. I loathe ketchup and everything it stands for.

This is not a perfunctory thing, I’ve been wrestling with it for quite some time. As a kitchen/food amateur, it started as a mild annoyance, but spread like the mold in my compost bin. Originally, my disgust for ketchup was tied to my geography. In Chicago, you do not put ketchup on a hot dog. You just don’t do it and you don’t ask questions. It’s this cultural thing, very exclusive and Chicago. It confuses a lot of people and others find it apocryphal, but it’s such a Chicago thing. My nine-year old cousin who only eats chicken fingers won’t touch ketchup, and I assume it’s more cultural than anything (you can never be 100 percent confident when surveying someone under the age of thirteen).

Why anyone would put ketchup on this, I do not know.

When I started cooking in college, ketchup and sriracha saved many meals. I lived in a cramped house with a cramped kitchen and an extremely inefficient electric stove. I tried to cook, but I never got anything right. My sauces remained stratified and meat overcooked for fear of undercooking, normal mistakes for someone with no kitchen experience and an overprotective mother to make and label as “dinner.” But like most things, I better with practice. With the help of an incredibly fantastic roommate/chef, I learned a ton about how certain foods were supposed to taste.** I learned that good food was easy to make, you just needed to think about it and use all of your fresh ingredients. Trust your hands, instincts, and most importantly, trust the food. Ketchup only subverts this trust.

A lot of this points back towards America’s culinary history, a story that my mom often relates to my own childhood and discovery of food.*** Ketchup became a part of the American dining experience, to the point of oversaturation. Big brands produced metric tonnes of the stuff and drowned out competition, pairing it with other American favorites. The trend served to homogenize the dining experience, leaving us to rely on ketchup and other mechanized products like spam and Lawry’s seasoning salt rather than the natural flavors.**** When I was a kid, I couldn’t get enough of that stuff. Frozen food and Sweet Baby Ray’s contributed roughly 30% of my total nutrient load. I craved this American experience, heavy on sugars and salt, masking the originality of what’s underneath.

Now that I don’t live in the same city as my parents, I feel sad because I could have been eating my mom’s food the whole time. American dining has followed a similar trend, emphasizing regions and cultures over blanket statements. Similarly, much of my cooking now embraces the lessons I’ve learned from my mother and grandmother, informed primarily by my heritage. My stance on ketchup mirrors my stance on culture: we cannot and should not move away from it. It’s the stuff of memories, and for the most part, it’s all we have.

This post was inspired by Steve Albini’s totally awesome food blog. I hope to be a professional jerk like him someday.

*=I love Sriracha, but it makes me a much worse cook overall. My roommate pointed this out to me over dinner, and now I’m extremely paranoid about my own cooking abilities.
**=My mother and my grandmother are the two most amazing cooks I know, and this is in no way an indictment of any culinary missteps (they don’t make them). It just took me a long time to start thinking about food the way that they did. Nowadays, I consult them on pretty much everything I cook.
***=Unfortunately for everybody, the Smithsonian’s
America Eats exhibit has closed, including the replica of Julia Child’s kitchen. I don’t have sources for this paragraph, but trust me, the information was in this exhibit.
****=I have read that this American diet lead to a country-wide distaste for bold beers, giving rise to the cheaper, more malevalent macrobrew culture that we know today.

Hate footnotes as much as we hate ketchup? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter or send an email to mwbeercollective@gmail.com for content with more brevity.

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49 Comments

Filed under Hoptellectual

49 responses to “Hoptellectual: A Personal Journey From Ketchup to Catsup

  1. While I don’t hate footnotes as much as I hate ketchup (and in fact I, too, use them on my blog from time to time…), I do have another somethin-somethin to offer: I LOATHE mayonnaise.

    Seriously. Most disgusting. Substance. EVER.

    Fun post. I wish you luck being as professional a jerk as that other guy. 😉

  2. I came across your blog as I was looking for commentary on beer, so it is funny that I’d come across a blog post with little to do with beer at all!

    However, I’d like to say that it’s also funny that just the other day I was complaining rather loudly about what I referred to as “Gastrosnobs” refusing ketchup to hungry wannabe hot dog eaters. I was just complaining three days ago about the absolute gall some people might have to outright refuse people to enjoy food the way they’d like it to be enjoyed. I was also thinking about the time a fancy-pants waiter at a fancy-pants restaurant refused to bring me salt as it would “ruin the integrity” of the cuisine the chef had prepared.

    Certainly, I respect you, your blog and your opinions. Though, I disagree with some of your sentiments. I suppose that’s what makes America great: differing viewpoints. 🙂

    Blog on, friend.

    • Anthony Cefali

      Glad we can agree to disagree!

    • As someone who’s cooked in six restaurants, ranging from pizza and grilled subs to ostrich steaks, if the customer is paying for it, I will take that perfect chunk of beef tenderloin, butterfly it, put a weight on it, and grill the hell out of it until its ‘well done’. However, if I am hosting/cooking, I am meticulous enough in my methods and knowledgeable enough in my experience that if I am making Copper River sockeye, it ain’t gonna be cooked all the way through. If I secure and dry-age USDA Prime beef, you are not getting me to cook it medium. The salmon will be medium-rare to medium, and the steak will just have the moo! cooked out of it. If I make you a burger, that’s all it will require is two hands and a mouth. Save the HFCS-infected pickle relish, the astringent yellow mustard, and the flavor-killing ketchup. I am not a nazi though. While I would say one of my better skills is being able to properly season foods, salt and pepper will never be denied.

  3. lilbrigs

    While I don’t hate ketchup, I completely agree that it does not belong on Chicago hot dogs. They’re one of my favorite things about that city.

  4. Haha, yes, I live in Chicago and I still think it’s really funny that you cannot get ketchup on a hot dog no matter how hard you try! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Grew up in Chicago and I still can’t eat ketchup on hot dogs. I also must have yellow crust on my pizza. Really miss the food there.

  6. Ketchup is the new salt. People season without tasting. As long as it’s soaked in red, most people will eat it. I find ketchup a bit weird. I like tomatoes, but so much sugar mixed in with them — is this supposed to be a version of chocolate sauce now?
    Nice blog, nice post. Congrats on the FP!
    Tania
    irunibreathe.wordpress.com

  7. I’ve grown up with no seasonings at the table. If the dish is meant to have salt, it will be seasoned. If it is meant to have ketchup, you will be offered it (or it will be added before serving). I cannot believe how many people will add salt, ketchup, pepper, whatever, to the dish without tasting it first! Ruins the chef/cook’s creativity and my family considered it a form of insult.

    At least taste it before adding… if you really must have salt added then we can discuss that after a few bites. 😉

  8. Nick B

    Growing up, I hated most of the things that my parents cooked for me. My palate has since matured (and still is maturing!), thanks in large part to the exploring I did in college. Kids (and I may just be talking about you and me, Anthony) often don’t appreciate how good their parents’ cooking is until shortly after they leave them for college or the real world. What’s kinda funny is that my parents still think of me as really picky, even though I’d eat just about anything they cook.

    Also, I love footnotes.

  9. Say what you want about ketchup. But Sriracha?!!! Leave my girl alone!!! 🙂

  10. When we were children, we used ketchup on our hotdogs. As we aged, we added mustard, then eventually quit using the ketchup. Our parents may have been easing us into mustard and weening us off ketchup.

    Congrats on being freshly pressed.

  11. Anthony Cefali

    Thanks for all the comments/criticisms/kind words. Just saw that we’re freshly pressed. Hope you click around a bit!

    PS I still loathe ketchup.

  12. I love ketchup, even on my Chicago dogs, (I know, sacrilegious) but I also love bold beer. I do have to agree that if good food is prepared well, ketchup should not be needed. Unfortunately, I can barely scrape together a grilled cheese sandwich, so ketchup is a necessary culinary condiment for me.

  13. Ketchup is like the TV of condiments. It’s very bland but it keeps the kids occupied when they’re eating.

  14. A problem with commercial ketchup arises in the production process — it gains a burnt residue that the public has come to believe should be part of the taste. My grandma in Ohio used to make and can her own ketchup, and it had none of that nastiness.

    As a homebrewer, you can extend the comparison. (We won’t name brands now, will we?)

    Even so, who says you have to like everything? You haven’t really weighed in on the mustard or pickles yet, much less the buns. Or the pairing of beverage and plate.

    Which reminds me: here in New England, we have two quite different kinds of frankfurter/hot dog buns. One looks like a little loaf of bread with a serrated top, while the other is little sub rolls. I learned that lesson from one girlfriend who sent me to the store and then reacted with “What the hell is that?” when I returned with our Midwestern version. Ahhh!

    • Anthony Cefali

      Mustards, pickles and buns play an integral roll in the final product. Each compliments one another, whereas ketchup just smears it’s greasy hands all over everything.

      And yes, I’ve had incredible homemade ketchups. I just don’t put them on my hot dogs.

  15. Look delicious hotdog 😀

  16. I don’t hate ketchup, but I don’t really use it often. I much prefer mayo or bbq sauce if I’m using any condiments.

  17. But…but…but…I can’t put ketchup on a hotdog? 😦 The best part of a hotdog is pairing it with the tang of ketchup and the sweetness of relish!

  18. I’m about to move to Chicago – I’m so glad you’ve informed me! I’m not a big ketchup person either (except on fries), and it’s also been a slow process of learning how to spice things well, play around with vinagrettes, and even pair fruit with meat. So much better!

  19. Someone told me that Ketchup is considered a vegetable. Weird! Funny blog. Thanks for sharing. http://www.segmation.wordpress.com

  20. Wow, delicious hotdog, love it! 🙂

  21. I have never been a big fan of Ketchup either! I do love mayonnaise though, and would rather eat my fries with mayonnaise than ketchup! What’s your thought on mayonnaise?

  22. Daniel

    Agreed.

    But passata, on the other hand?

    Passata is gold.

    Some of the best meals I’ve ever cooked had a passata base.

  23. My twins were conceived over catsup

  24. I find it odd that you praise the hot dog enough to say that you won’t disgrace it by putting ketchup on it. The hot dog itself really cannot get any worse no matter what you put on it. Far be it for me to say that it’s not good food, but I’ll say that it’s just not food. Period. No offense, I just hate hot dogs.

    I love ketchup. I douse my fries, spicy chicken burgers from Wendy’s, and meatloaf in it. But that’s about it.

    But really, why get your knickers in a bunch of ketchup? I understand your frustration with people putting it on EVERYTHING to save their food. The same way that someone drowns their tuna sashimi with soy sauce, pickled ginger and wasabi. But that’s not a problem with the product, it’s the person. More accurately, the person’s taste and cooking skill or lack-therof.

    I try to keep in mind as a “food-inclined” individual that my perspective on food vastly differs from that of the mass. My favorite meal this week: spaghetti and tomato sauce: tomatoes, basil garnish, garlic, salt, olive oil… noodles. Oh, and pepper. Does it need ketchup? F*** NO.

    Anyways… there’s a lot more to this topic than ketchup. I write this as I sip a glass of Blood Alley Bitter (extra special bitter) from Russel Brewing. Keep up the good work!

  25. Pingback: A Personal Journey From Ketchup to Catsup « My Favorite Spaces

  26. My twins were conceived over catsup

  27. it looks yummy! 🙂

  28. When I was a kid, I slathered everything in ketchup. Gag. Now I don’t know how I ever stood it. Love the post!

  29. Ketchup serves one purpose for me and that’s on french fries. Groovy post

    val
    http://valentinedefrancis.blogspot.com

  30. Anonymous

    I only eat ketchup with french fries too but ketchup is actually good. It has lycopene.

  31. What a coincidence that I read this post after just recently complaining about Tobasco sauce to my mother. I think in a home setting, if someone asks for Tobasco before they even go beyond their first bite of a dish, it is a bit of an insult to the cook. I reckon the same should be said of ketchup?

  32. I have to admit, I do love a bit of ketchup, but I’m from England and we put it on everything! I only really eat it with chips (fries) and bacon sandwiches. In England we have this great experimental chef called Heston Blumenthal, and he did a programme about making the perfect ketchup, it was very interesting!

  33. As it happens I made hot dogs for dinner last evening. I like mine on a toasted bun with sauer kraut and spicy mustard. I would never dream of putting ketchup on my dogs, although I do like it on hamburgers and roast beef sandwiches.

  34. …When potatoes are no longer the blandest food on the planet, and the price of truffle oil drops, I will stop setting my fries afloat in ketchup, When I find a breakfast place (other than the Highland Bakery in Atlanta) that can make eggs properly seasoned, I will not put ketchup and a dash of hot sauce on them. My bottle of ketchup and hot sauce, at home, have been in my fridge for years. That should say something…

    Like dieting, and everything else in life, it’s all about balance, not elimination. Sauerkraut, tamari wasabi habaneros, etc. have really intense flavors, so I balance the proportions of them to the other ingredients in the dish. There is not ingredient that is too strong in flavor to be ignored. Among beer snobs (did I say that out loud?), I hate to bring up wine (I’m a wine snob, by the way), but including a strong-flavored ingredient in a dish is just like pairing a wine with a meal. Pairing a glass of viognier with shrimp gumbo, or a glass of Ridge Zinfandel with halibut, might lead to some harshly drawn, and inaccurate, conclusions about gumbo and zinfandel being too strong to pair with anything. It is simply not true. It’s all about balance. Given the adamance of your view of ketchup, I think I would have an easier time convincing an Evangelical of the nonexistence of God, but who knows, there might be a ‘Eureka!’ moment buried above in this little rant.

    Cheers!

  35. Ann

    I will not say I hate ketchup but I do not use it on hot dogs or hamburgers as I don’t like that taste. But my sister just loathes ketchup. With whatever it is, she hates it!

  36. A place by us in Fairfield, CT called Super Duper Weenie will NOT put ketchup on your hot dog. 🙂 You need to put it on yourself, they won’t besmirch it. Plus, they don’t sell Diet Coke. You don’t go to a calorie heavy place and drink Diet Coke. Seriously.

  37. Pingback: Suds: July 30 | Midwest Beer Collective

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