I’m not a French fry snob. I’ll pretty much eat any kind of French fry whether it’s shoestring, waffle, or curly; from a fast food restaurant, a steak house or my freezer. Given the choice between a baked potato or French fries, I will always choose the fries, thunder thighs be damned.
There is, in fact, only one thing that stands between me and pure French fry nirvana:
I have to have ketchup for my fries. Fries without ketchup is like macaroni without cheese … peanut butter without jelly ... rings without dings. It’s just not as good. Typically, this wouldn’t seem like a difficult thing to come by. Usually where there are French fries, there is ketchup.
Then one day when I was out of town, I stopped in a local diner and ordered a burger and fries. I asked the server for some ketchup, and she obligingly brought me a red bottle.
But it wasn’t ketchup. It was catsup.
“Do you have any ketchup?” I asked her when I realized the error of her ways.
“This is ketchup,” she replied.
“No, it’s CATsup,” I corrected her. “It’s different.” She stared at me like I had lost my mind.
“Ketchup tastes better than catsup,” I explained.
She shook her head at me. “You’re not making any sense, Hun. You said catsup tastes better than catsup.”
I suddenly realized, shockingly, that in this part of the country, even if you said ketchup, they heard catsup and there was no distinction between the two. I also realized that although I am not a French fry snob, I am, in fact, a ketchup snob. I grew up on Ketchup, with a K, which is made from tomatoes, not Catsup, with a C, which is clearly made from cats, because the two taste nothing alike. Although some people might find them to be interchangeable, I do not, and I am typically loathe to cover my lovely French fries with some sad ketchup-wannabe.
On principle alone, ketchup is clearly the superior condiment. It has a long, important history dating back to 1690 where it was discovered in China by English sailors and brought west. The word ketchup is derived from the Chinese sauce ke-tsiap. In Malaysia it became kechap and ketjap in Indonesia. Sometime after it made its way west, someone messed with the name and thus, the variation catsup was born. Sadly, catsup caught on in various parts of the country and never left. If it were just a matter of spelling, I don’t think I would care all that much. But since they taste distinctly different, I would rather eat my fries naked than subject them to a catsup drowning. Still, in the interest of being a good tourist I decided to just let the whole thing go.
“You know what,” I said. “Forget it. This catsup is good. But could you bring me some Splenda for my iced tea?”
“Splendid what?” she responded.
I sighed. “Just sugar would be fine.”
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