Indians will hate tomato ketchup after reading this piece
Sometimes the ketchup itself tells you to take it easy, refusing to exit the bottle. But no.
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By virtue of being born an Indian, there are a few things you’re simply expected to do, no questions asked. You’re not allowed to respect the concept of a queue. You must, at all costs, play music loudly from your phone in a public space. You have to stare at people till they get uncomfortable. Use of indicators on cars and two-wheelers is strictly banned. Burping, good; covering your mouth while coughing or sneezing, bad. There’s plenty more, but somewhere near the top of the list: You absolutely must love ketchup.
It’s such an inherently Indian thing, to destroy any nuance in taste by dumping a bucketful of ketchup on whatever you’re eating. You hunt down that ancient, indestructible Maggi bottle (Heinz if you’re all rich and fancy) lying somewhere in your house and you go to town with it. Sometimes the ketchup itself tells you to take it easy, refusing to exit the bottle. But no. You turn the bottle around and whack its bottom until the ketchup dribbles out reluctantly.
Here, I should disclose that I hate ketchup, to the extent that it’s practically a phobia. Like hair in your food, a fly in your soup, it makes my abdomen recoil in horror. This makes me a freak occurrence, a statistical anomaly, a one-in-a-1.324-billion punters’ nightmare. The rest of this country is obsessed with ketchup.
Ketchup on Dahi Vada? What have we done? Photo: Tummy Charger
It’s everywhere – from bad puns (lettuce ketchup) to pop culture (the Javed Jaffrey ads?) to appetisers, main course dishes, snacks, desserts.
I think this unhealthy obsession comes from the fact that ketchup entered the market at a time where it was seen as this cool American concept that was sort of aspirational for the average Indian.
Before the internet, exposure to the outside world was limited – ketchup was something you ate with an all-American cheeseburger or an all-American hotdog. And the US was like this ultimate goal for the majority of the financially comfortable sections of society. So we embraced it because we knew no better, and it just sort of stuck. And now we can’t shake it off because of all the memories.
People began to have it with samosa and other Indian snacks, ahead of the far superior green chutney, all because of its hep-value and exoticness. The tang, the zest, made it an able accompaniment to any kind of continental food, especially the bland-ish variety that our spice-heavy palette wasn’t quite used to.
It’s reached the point where I can’t eat a meal anywhere without a “No fracking ketchup!” clause. Whether it’s some unpronounceable French dish at a posh hotel or at a streetside omelette stall, all my orders are followed by the warning that I’m allergic to ketchup (which isn’t even true), followed by a bemused look directed my way.
Once I even staged a walkout from a friend’s house when I was served Maggi not-actually-instant noodles with a bowl of ketchup plopped on them. A list of things I’ve ordered and had to send back because they had ketchup in them: burger, fries, pizza, pasta, shawarma, kathi roll, tandoori chicken, dosa, noodles, cheesecake, gulab jamun, glass of water, book, shoes, a watch, a cellphone.
There was a period when it became sort of like this all-access cheat code to make boring food eatable and "interesting".
Parents of fussy eaters would just dunk some ketchup on the plate to make the kids finish their damn food when they were being difficult, even alongside roti and vegetables.
The finest minds of our times have been trying for years to rid Indians of this ketchup fixation. Photo: Delish.com
Companies have been capitalising on it too, coming out with new variants every few months. Sweet ‘n’ sour, hot and sweet, pudina flavoured, chilli ketchup, masala sauce, Maggi Pichkoo (not making it up), all further crowding our fridges with garbage. This needs to stop.
And I’m not alone in thinking this. The finest minds of our times have been trying for years to rid Indians of this ketchup fixation.
Previous regimes opened up our markets to global influence just so that we’d try something else. That brought in more exotic and better tasting condiments – BBQ sauce, mayonnaise, mustard, wasabi, peri-peri-piri-piri sauce. But to no avail.
McDonald’s, a company famous for its commitment to the advancement of society, began to charge Re 1 for every extra packet of ketchup. This wasn’t done to maximise profits, no sir. Nor was it for environmental reasons. It was simply because they were running out of ketchup at lunchtime (presumably), and they wanted people to stop. Even that wasn’t enough of a deterrent though, and so the big guns had to be roped in.
The people currently running our country, the same ones who valiantly taught us of the sacrifices of soldiers and digital wallet startups through the very successful demonetisation scheme, have jacked up the price of tomatoes over the last few months in the vain hope that something will come of it.
It’s not going to work though. Not even the fairly comical nuclear war we’re on the cusp of will have an effect. Most of our civilisation may get wiped out, but I can safely say that cockroaches and those Maggi ketchup bottles will survive. Plus ça change.