Sometimes, Americans hate to leave a good thing alone. According to one recently trending TikTok, ketchup gets the job done as well as anything.
Creator Kate (@ktboro) posted a video on Jan. 19 that called out customers who ask for the condiment at the Florida-based restaurant where she works, which sells American-style Chinese food.
The video has almost 150,000 views and more than 10,000 likes.
“I always have customers come up and ask if we have ketchup,” she said to the camera. She added: “I’m always so confused, because I’m like, what the [expletive] are you putting ketchup on? Your fried rice? Your orange chicken?”
Kate isn’t the only one confused in these interactions.
“It’s so funny, because I’ll be like, ‘No, sorry, we don’t have ketchup.’ And they always look so confused, like so shocked,” she said.
She said such customers make her wonder, “What are you putting ketchup on, and why do you look so lost without it?”
Viewers were all over this subject, with many sharing Kate’s confusion and others confirming that the behavior isn’t limited to Chinese restaurants.
“Worked at an italian pizza and pasta place and SAME,” one person wrote.
Another person commented, “i waited on this old guy named leo who owned the junkyard. he poured ketchup over his oatmeal every morning. … he used to make me microwave the ketchup so it didn’t cool the oatmeal down.”
“I work in a taco restaurant and people ask for ketchup ALL THE TIME and I always wonder what they’re trying to put it on. And ranch,” someone wrote.
“NO FR when i worked at panda express, i’d always get ppl asking for ketchup, LIKE WHY DO YOU NEED KETCHUP FOR THAT,” another person wrote.
And it’s not just ketchup.
“I did to gos at Olive Garden for 7 years. Someone once ordered lasagna and asked if we had mayonnaise,” one person commented.
“Not the same but I work at a fried chicken chain where I live and EVERYONE gets so upset and sad when we don’t have Mayo??” one viewer added.
Another commenter wrote, “my BF puts ranch on his fried rice its a damn atrocity.” Another commenter replied, “Wait…he might be on to something…also I’m just really hungry right now.”
“I had someone from the UK ask for [mayonnaise]. They were eating ribs … I quite literally exclaimed ‘FOR WHAT?!’ and they said to dip in,” a viewer chimed in.
Sometimes, the cross-cultural condiment kerfuffle goes in the opposite direction.
“I work at a bar and grill and someone asked for plum sauce and i was so confused,” a commenter wrote.
Another commenter brought up an interesting point: “ironic when you consider the history of ketchup … ketchup comes from a fermented chinese fish sauce.”
Well, kinda sorta, according to a pretty thorough history of ketchup published last year by food outlet Epicurious. Historians believe that the condiment’s name likely came from the Chinese kê-tsiap, a Hokkien word for fish sauce. But what we know as ketchup today is probably derived from kecap manis, a sweet Indonesian soy sauce that got its name from the Chinese condiment, according to Epicurious.
The food outlet reported that the Indonesian sauce made its way to England by the 1700s, with at least one historical source already referring to it as ketchup by then. The sauce underwent many mutations—as often happens with colonialism—involving fish, mushrooms, and more ingredients, before the first popular tomato-based recipe emerged in 1812 in Philadelphia, according to Epicurious.
And ketchup is big business now. According to market research firm Mordor Intelligence, the ketchup market is expected to hit $17.17 billion this year.
But asking for ketchup at restaurants that serve Asian cuisine might not be as unusual as Kate and some commenters believe.
“I am Asian. I put ketchup in my fried rice,” one person commented.
“Ketchup on East Asian fried rice is such a staple for elementary East Asian kids! It hits so differently!” another person added.
“Hear me out girl… don’t knock it till you try it. Ketchup on white rice,” a viewer wrote.
One comment read, “i dip my sweet and sour chicken in ketchup cause i don’t like sweet and sour sauce.”
In 2022, author Rachel Khong wrote about ketchup’s special place in Asian kitchens for the San Francisco Chronicle, saying that chefs in Asian countries and households across the diaspora use it as both an ingredient and as a sauce.
Update 10:38am CT, Feb. 6: In an interview with the Daily Dot via TikTok direct message, Kate said she wasn’t expecting the video to get a lot of views.
“I honestly had no idea that ketchup is a base for many Chinese sauces so I guess it makes total sense for people to want ketchup with their Chinese food although ketchup is not the sauce I typically go for,” she said.
Customers shock Kate all the time with questions, she said, “like when something isn’t on the menu but they insist we must have it since a Chinese restaurant in their home town does.”
But crucially, the creator wanted viewers to know that she’s not anti-ketchup.
“I am from New Jersey, and I always get ketchup on my pork roll, egg and cheese sandwiches,” she said, adding that “ketchup is a must but not with my Chinese food.”