One cold, rainy day late last November, LA decided that he was tired of sleeping on the floor and waking up with carpet bits in his hair. He was ready to buy a bed. A stop at a local furniture store secured him one bed, to be delivered the following day. As we walked out of the furniture store, I mentioned running across the street to the “Oriental Market”. Initially, we were unable to get in and thought the door was locked. A woman let us in and told us that the door was sticking. We sadly discovered that Ventiane Oriental Market was in its last few weeks of business. The shelves were on the barren side. Towards the back, near the freezers that were no longer running, was a large wooden table filled with ketchup bottles. We picked up a bottle, labelled “banana ketchup”. LA made a face. I had read somewhere a year or two before about banana ketchup and its deliciousness. To LA’s horror and dismay, I bought a bottle. We walked out into the rain, where I immediately opened the bottle and stuck in a finger. I wanted to try it. It was delicious. Full of doubt, LA did the same. We walked right back in (after a brief fight with the door) and each bought another bottle.
Although we had tacos for lunch, we ordered a side of fries as a testing ground for the ketchup. French fries had never tasted so good. The meatloaf I made using the hot and regular varieties of banana ketchup garnered a marriage proposal from LA. While I did turn down the proposal, I was able to appreciate the sentiment. It was that good. A friend recently stopped by with a fast food lunch and asked if I had any ketchup. Regular ketchup. He doesn’t know what he’s missing.
If you give someone banana ketchup and ask them to describe the taste, you will invariably hear, “I dunno. Weird barbecue sauce?” Weird barbecue sauce perhaps, but also the best culinary discovery that I had made in quite some time. Banana ketchup is brownish in color, unless dyed red to look like tomato ketchup, and very similar to barbecue sauce in that respect. The consistency also isn't as smooth. As the name implies, banana ketchup in made with bananas instead of tomatoes. Banana ketchup does not taste like bananas, and you would be hard-pressed to identify any banana flavor at all. Even the taste more resembles barbecue sauce than tomato ketchup. Banana ketchup is a bit sweeter and less acidic and vinegary than its tomato counterpart. Many varieties include no vinegar at all, unlike tomato ketchup.
I felt I needed to do a bit of research on the banana ketchup. Where did it come from, and why had I never had it before? Turns out, banana ketchup, or banana sauce, is the #1 condiment in the Phillippines. The Filipinos are really on to something! They put it on spaghetti and pizza—uses that Americans would traditionally give to tomato sauce. LA decided to try it on noodles and declared it a winner. I prefer the more traditional American roles of French fry partner and meatloaf assistant. I may also be hesitant to use it on pizza or spaghetti because I am running low, and it is not as easily acquired now that Ventiane has closed. The most readily available brands of banana ketchup are Baron and Jufran. Jufran is owned by the H.J. Heinz company, which could mean banana ketchup turning up in more traditional outlets in the U.S. than just Asian markets. Baron is a St. Lucian company. A visit to their website begins with calypso music and lyrics devoted to their variey of products, including tomato and banana ketchups and mango chutney. You’ll be singing the song for hours. Both brands are available on Amazon. Another option for the truly adventurous is to make your own banana ketchup. Recipes abound and can easily be found by doing an internet search of “banana ketchup recipe”. I haven’t made any of these yet, although I’m sure I will be before too long. My bottle is almost empty, and I don’t want to envision a future without banana ketchup.