Ketchup is both our most popular condiment and arguably, our most divisive. To some, the sweet, tangy tomato sauce seems synonymous with hamburgers and hot dogs; others will tell you ketchup has no place on either.
Americans love the sweet flavor of ketchup; sugar or other sweeteners play a huge role in evening out the acidity of the tomatoes. It’s hardly any wonder that children consume more than 50 percent of the ketchup sold in the U.S.
But these five places are fighting back. Time to pick a side!
The Chicago-style hot dog includes tomatoes, but never any ketchup. Thought to overwhelm the taste of the hot dog and its poppy seed bun, ketchup is an unwelcome intruder and a surefire giveaway of an out-of-towner. By most accounts, the hot dog’s popularity in the city is attributed to Samuel Ladany and Emil Reichl, who set up a pushcart in 1893 to sell sausages outside the World’s Columbian Exposition. Their success helped them launch a butcher shop, which then grew into Vienna Beef, now Chicago’s largest hot dog supplier. Bob Schwartz, one of Vienna’s Senior VPs, wrote a book titled Never Put Ketchup On A Hot Dog.
Some restaurants like Superdawg and Hot Doug’s won’t apply ketchup for you, but leave it out so you can “ruin the dog yourself.” Then there’s places like Gene & Jude’s in River Grove that won’t even offer ketchup for fries for fear you might use it elsewhere. And Jimmy’s Red Hots in Humboldt Park throws you out just for asking.
Chicago has support in its efforts. The National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, a Washington, DC-based trade association codified what it calls “the cardinal rule” in this 2008 video.
And if you needed more, how about a presidential declaration? Barack Obama, a proud Chicagoan, visited a Rudy’s Hot Dog in Toledo, OH in 2011. When Toledo’s mayor Marcy Kaptur ordered ketchup, he teased, “as an aficionado of hot dogs, you shouldn’t put ketchup on hot dogs … I’m trying to teach my girls.”
Guess what? He wants to teach you, too.
If it’s philistine to put ketchup on a hot dog, it’s downright barbaric to put one on a hamburger. Or so says Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut, the birthplace of the burger. To be fair, Louis’ doesn’t allow mustard either. In fact, “cheese, tomato and onions are only acceptable garnish,” and there are no buns, just white toast — exactly how it was in 1900 when Louis Lassen first served his hamburger sandwich.
If the original burger (Louis’) says so, so does the uber-modern burger. Sang Yoon, proprietor of Father’s Office in Los Angeles, has created a widely celebrated burger with caramelized onions, Gruyère and Maytag cheeses, applewood-smoked bacon compote, and arugula. But there’s a very strict rule: no substitutions, and that includes no ketchup. The no-ketchup rule is so well known that on Top Chef Masters, Douglas Keane of Cyrus goaded Yoon by inventing a ketchup-centered Quickfire challenge. When he launched his restaurant, Yoon didn’t think he’d cause such an uproar. “[The burger] just doesn’t need ketchup,” he told the Wall Street Journal. He even admits he keeps a bottle of Heinz in his refrigerator at home, but, “It’s not for me. It’s if someone comes over and wants it.”
France holds fast to its cultural identity, especially when it comes to protecting the French language from Anglicized word invaders. But equally important to les français is the Gallic cuisine of the country, and in an effort to defend it, the French government has banned school and college cafeterias from offering ketchup to its students. Agriculture and food minister Bruno Le Maire said, “France must be an example to the world in the quality of its food, starting with its children.” There is one notable exception. (Guess.) It’s still okay to serve ketchup with French fries, but fries can be offered only once a week. Christophe Hebert, chairman of the National Assn. of Directors of Collective Restaurants, explained, “We absolutely have to stop children from being able to serve those sorts of sauces to themselves with every meal. Children have a tendency to use them to mask the taste of whatever they are eating.”
If you’re looking for a reason to visit Middleton, Wisconsin (and who among us isn’t?), look no further than the National Mustard Museum, home to 5,566 mustards from all 50 states and more than 70 countries.
Wisconsin mustard-maker Don Lawyer, whose Clem’s Hot Pepper Mustard and Hawkwind Heat are featured in the museum, explains it thusly: “ketchup masks flavor and tends to overpower main ingredients, whereas mustard enhances and infuses the palate, creating a unified, balanced taste.”
Kim Kohatsu judges the quality of her relationships on the ability to share food. If she can't split an appetizer with you, in her eyes, you are pretty much worthless. Kim's current food adventures revolve around ramen, sushi, Indian curries, Sichuan food, and fried chicken. Oh, and cheeseburgers. Kim loves a good cheeseburger.