Out of Fish Sauce

This afternoon I tried to put my favorite condiment on my sandwich. No luck, none in the refrigerator, none in the pantry. I was doomed to a bland sandwich. It was my own fault. I had been purchasing the giant size bottle, where you stored it upside down so you could easily see how much was left.

Not like the old days with the narrow necked bottle that allowed the sauce to cake up the narrow opening, disguising how much was left. The art of getting the sauce to flow was to hit the bottom with the heel of the other hand, then perfect spurts would be perfectly placed. Sometimes this was tried with a full bottle, but only the “masters” of this technique could make it work. The rest of us would jam a butter knife to slide up the narrow neck and break the “log jam”, to allow the sauce to flow. Half the time half the bottle would drench the plate. Yech!

As soon as I could read, I was in confusion. Sometimes the sauce label was “Ketchup”, sometimes it was “Catsup”. I couldn’t really tell if there was a difference. Like some tribes where people were given baby food in labeled jars, I feared the contents of the sauce. Perhaps they had discovered a way to process dead cats as an ingredient, so they changed the label to “Catsup”. At least it wasn’t ground up cherubic grinning babies.

Much later I learned that Catsup came from the popular pickled fish with herbs sauce, called “ketsiap”. Wait… fish sauce? When did the fish turn into tomatoes? Apparently around the early 1800s.

How lucky for me that it wasn’t cucumbers, or yams. Catsup doesn’t have a thing to do with tomatoes, neither does ketchup. So, when the recipe changed it could been been anything…Locusts, or grasshoppers, or pickled grapes!

A little Google research suggests that Catsup is more popular in the South. I’m not sure that is true. I know soft drinks are more often called “pop” instead of “soda”.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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