Sunday, January 24, 2010
Many travelers to the Philippines are astounded at how westernized the country is. And although in many ways that is true--everyone here speaks English and smiles a lot--there is a distinct Filipino twist to even the most western of foods. Jollibee's, the Filipino answer to McDonald's, serves fast food suited to the Filipino palate, which prefers as much sugar as one can possibly get in traditionally savory meals. The burgers are sweet here, the spaghetti is sweet here, and both are covered with banana ketchup.
Banana ketchup resembles regular tomato ketchup in color and presentation (it's dyed red) but is made from bananas, sugar, vinegar and spices. When presented with the stuff, it's easy to think you're just eating a sweeter, spicier tomato ketchup, but do not be fooled! There is a distinctly banana flavor to it. Some brands are not dissimilar to Thai sweet chili sauce.
In the supermarket, the ketchup shelf is 90% banana ketchup with a few bottles of Hunt's making a weak showing. And perhaps most shockingly, it's the main ingredient in Filipino spaghetti, which is not something you'd easily associate with the Italian variety you're probably familar with. It's sweet, it's served with a burger on the side and generally a Royal (orange soda) and it's in every fast food joint in town.
Banana ketchup became popular during World War Two when food shortages resulted in a severe lack of tomato ketchup (horror). An abundance of Filipino bananas led to the invention of banana ketchup which is still the favored Filipino condiment today. It's no wonder that McDonald's has such terrible market share--they can't adapt to the banana ketchup scene.
(Watch the history of banana ketchup)