From Ke’tsiap to Ketchup: How An Asian Fish Sauce Conquered The Tables Of North America

Ketchup is known as the all American condiment, but its history is as salty as any weatherworn mariner. Called ke-tsiap in ancient China, a beloved fish sauce fermented from anchovies was common throughout Asia and first documented in the 3rd century BCE.

In the 17th century, when British traders sailed to Asia and encountered Chinese sailors and their ke-tsiap , they liked it enough to bring it home. Ke-tsiap became catsup or ketchup, but the journey to the sweet, acidic tomato paste we know today did not happen overnight.

The Brits immediately made ketchup their own, using mushrooms, oysters, and such now unusual additions as pickled walnuts to give savoury notes and tang to the condiment. Horticulturalist James Mease recorded the first known recipe for a tomato version in 1812, and by the 1830s it was being used as not just food but also medicine. Once considered poisonous, the tomato had now come around in popular conception as a help for digestion.

Today tomato ketchup is found in 97% of American households and enjoys near the same renown in Canada. Distinct cultures like Newfoundland are among the last in North America to favour salt and malt vinegar on our French fries; the Quebecois use mayo for the same purpose. But for most on our continent, ketchup is king.

Besides condiment mega corps like Heinz and French’s, New York upstart Sir Kensington’s is bringing a craft approach to the table with a GMO and high fructose corn syrup free ketchup. Amish tomato jam, banana ketchup, and other varietals exist, and spicy ketchups are becoming a response to Sriracha ‘s booming popularity.

Ketchup Pairing With Food

Seafood celebrates ketchup’s mariners’ history. Grill salmon with a ketchup, chive, and tarragon marinade. For white fish, dress with a ketchup-based sauce fleshed out with fresh basil, good black olives, celery, bell peppers, and a dash of cayenne.

Shrimp skewers marinated with ketchup, sherry, soy, ginger and garlic are great served with sticky rice and grilled veggies, or slather the same marinade on tofu skewers for a veggie option. Fish burgers reach comfort food perfection with ketchup, American cheese, and pickles.

Ketchup friendly sides include mac and cheese, grilled eggplant, and grilled cabbage wedges. Some potato salad recipes are brightened with ketchup, and any salad that is good with Russian or Thousand Island dressing will complement a ketchupy BBQ. Roasted sweet potatoes match both seafood and ketchup, and a version of coleslaw that uses ketchup, sugar, apple cider vinegar and hot sauce instead of mayo is surprisingly delicious.

Ketchup Pairing With Booze

What to drink? Beer. Preferably the same bitter IPAs often associated with British sailors and voyages to warmer climes. Driftwood’s Fat Tug or Quidi Vidi’s Calm Tom are ace, with intense hops cutting the ketchup’s sweetness while balancing its acidity.

Port Rexton’s Chasing Sun NEIPA has a hazier, fuller profile that pairs beautifully with a less sweet, tomato-forward expression of the condiment. Any bright, clean lager works well, as do brown and Irish Red Ales.