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Ketchup (aka catsup) is seen as the quintessential American condiment, although Berliners are beginning to make it their own. (More about that later). I grew up thinking of ketchup as the tomato sauce in a bottle that didn't want to come out. My father used to say, quoting Ogden Nash, I think, "Shake, shake the ketchup bottle; none will come and then a lot'll." Here in California, where tomatoes are big agribusiness, ketchup is known as the final destination for the surplus that never makes it fresh to the table. At Hearst Castle, the San Simeon retreat of the former mainstream media mogul, the castle walls may have been transported stone by stone from Europe, but there is always a bottle of ketchup on the banquet table.
Ketchup, I have learned, did not start as a tomato sauce, but as a Chinese fish sauce. Fish sauce on its own is a fascinating topic. Fish, especially small bony ones caught in large quantities, are salted and stored in a container. As the salt leaches out the juices, it is drained off and becomes fish sauce. A paste is made of the remaining solids. On a trip to Barcelona I learned that in Roman times, the sauce, garum in Latin, was shipped all over the Empire and highly prized. High-quality anchovies are still salted and exported from the same coast. My own introduction to anchovies occurred with my first taste of a pizza from the Colonial Pizzeria in Easton, Pennsylvania. The salty little critters are still my favorite pizza topping.
So: back to ketchup. The name apparently comes from ke-tsiap, said to be literally "fish sauce" in the language of Amoy, a Chinese island now known as Xiamen. A similar fish sauce, nuoc mam, is a staple in Vietnamese cuisine. Supposedly sailors acquired a taste for ketchup and brought it back to Europe where, lacking a local version of fish sauce, it was made from such bizarre ingredients as mushrooms or walnuts. Later the Americans tried tomatoes and the rest is history. In Berlin, I have learned, a kind of bratwurst-like sausage is served with a homemade ketchup, fried potatoes, and curry powder, and is called currywurst. Go figure.| Technorati Tags: Ketchup Anchovy Heinz Currywurst
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