Thursday, April 2, 2009

April 2, 2009

The Trouble With CondimentsI'm not particularly a fan of anything on my food. Yes, I know that's a blanket statement, and there will be more on that later, but in general, I prefer my food as is. That is to say, I don't really like condiments. So for the sake of my argument, let's use the tried, tested, and true hamburger as an example.

For people like me, ordering a burger can sometime be a ridiculously painful experience, because generally the default burger comes with a multitude of condiments on it, and it requires a special order to have these condiments not put on the burger. From the basest fast food burger from McDonald's or Burger King or Wendy's, to homestyle diner burgers, to gourmet burgers, the person who prefers a plain (or near-plain) burger can never assume that that's what they'll get when they order. And depending on the level of intelligence of the person you're dealing with, the ordering process can be trying. So, if I order an Angus Burger With Bacon & Cheese (which costs $1.70 more than the Angus Burger alone), and ask for it plain, it's often a comedy of errors explaining that I still want the cheese and bacon. And this is a necessity since I'm likely going to pay $1.70 for the air on my burger if I don't specify.

Why isn't the default burger 'plain' and you just work upward with toppings from there? The pizza industry seems to have a grasp on this concept. The only place that seems to have caught on that this is a proper strategy is Harvey's, except that their burgers taste like crap, so it's a moot point for me. And let's forget for a moment about the freaks like me that pretty much don't like anything on their burger...isn't it safe to assume that not everyone likes the same thing? So why start with pickles, ketchup, mustard, and onions for example? Makes no sense to me.

So, when I'm out somewhere, and I'm ordering food, invariably someone asks me about my affinity for a 'plain' item. I usually respond with "I don't like condiments' and that's pretty much it. However, a select few don't seem to accept this answer and proceed to try to poke holes in my preference, almost as if instead of saying 'I don't like condiments', I said "There is not a single condiment on this planet that I will eat under any circumstances, and I challenge you to find fool!"

My friend Neil spent the better part of four hours one night peppering me with condiments while we were playing poker, insistent that he would find one that I liked. Months later, we were in Las Vegas having Prime Rib at The Victorian, and I asked for my salad without dressing, and he launched back into it. Then last year, I was in Vancouver, and my friend Matt did the same thing, firing condiment after condiment at me trying to dis-prove my if finding one would immediately brand me a liar, and the skies would open up dropping piles of money on him as if he had just won the grand prize on a game show.

Neil doesn't really ask anymore, but Matt still works on it constantly...and that has raised the following question:

What Constitutes A Condiment?

To me, a condiment is something that you add to a completed item that alters the taste. To others, it's any sort of addition at all. This main disagreement in logic is what prompts most of the discourse in my defensive stands against people like Neil and Matt. Neil insisted to me that croutons were a condiment (?!?), and Matt called me yesterday, and pretty much screamed in the phone "Butter!" as if he had just discovered penicillin.

Look at the table below, called the Table of Condiments That Periodically Go Bad. I have a big problem with a lot of them being classified as condiments. Salt? Pepper? Jalapenos? Aspartame? Maraschino Cherries? Come on! And Gravy? I mean, gravies and sauces should be a category all their own.

If you cook with it, I wouldn't consider it a condiment (in that usage), but if you put it on something after you're done cooking, then I think it is. Matt tried to tell me that when I got Roasted Garlic (full cloves) or sauteed mushrooms on a burger at Vera's in Vancouver, that they are condiments. According to him, anything on the burger is a condiment. So, by his logic, the cheese would be a condiment, as would lettuce, and damn...if I got a double burger, I guess that second patty would be a condiment too!

Yes it's a grey area. Yes, the definition means different things to different people, so let's just say that I don't like The Usual Suspects in the Condiment World: Ketchup, Mustard, Mayonnaise, Relish, and many many more. There are things I will eat that you may classify as condiments, but I don't think that they are. And if you find one I like, all the power to you, you don't win a prize.

So let me ask you, what constitutes a condiment to you? Discuss in the comments section.


Matt said...

I would like to argue your cheese and double patty burger argument. Clearly if you order a Cheeseburger, Veggie burger, or for Gods sake a mushroomburger, the name clearly states what you are getting, and they are not considered a condiment. But, the addition of lettuce, tomatoes, onion, catsup and mustard, clearly ARE condiments. Therefore, butter on a bagel is a condiment. I am still waiting for that pile of money to ascend. So, let's have it Monte Hall.

Laura Szamreta said...

I think veggies (lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, etc) fall under "garnish". Saucy items, such as ketchup and mustard fall under "condiment". I don't like garnishes on my sandwiches and burgers, but am okay with most condiments. I find that if I order something "no garnish" the staff seem to get it. I still get the ketchup and mustard, etc but the vegetation stays blissfully off my plate.

Neil said...

I remember Vegas of course, but I don't remember spending hours on it before Vegas...although it certainly sounds like me.

Matt sounds like a smart guy. Butter is genius and he should get the prize. Maple Syrup!!

Question: are you okay with having it on the side and dipping it? (ie a ramiken of ketchup)


Sean said...

Good point Laura about the condiment vs. garnish difference. Perhaps a whole new tangent to explore...

Neil, if it's on the side, it's an elective option, and thus not a condiment in my eyes. I still wouldn't eat it, however.

Matt...keep waiting, Captain Butter.

Danny West said...

whats it like going to Subway for you? lol i mean their whole system is based around condiments. unless you catagorise them with garnish.

Personally I feel sauces like katsup mustard to be condiments. maybe because i can live with out those on a sandwich. Lettuce Tomatoes Onions Pickles are too tasty for me to not have them on a burger. but then again this is also a recent change as my love for cooking and food grew. If it hadn't i probably would still be eating "Plain, no condiment" burgers and sandwiches myself

Sean said...

Danny, a trip to Subway for me is pretty boring. I went yesterday as a matter of fact. Lettuce, some cucumbers, a tiny bit of red onion, and some salt and pepper. That's it.

As Laura said, raw vegetables are fair game.

Choirchick22 said...

I feel this pain! I don't mind ketchup and cheese, but everything else I have to constantly ask them to remove on my burgers! Why don't they come plain as meat patties on buns and then you tell them all the crap you want to smother them with?

Ken said...

So according to you periodic table, peanut butter counts as a condiment then? Do you not like pb and jam sandwiches, or pb on toast?

Bryan Thiel said...

I'm confused. Horseradish you can cook with, but also use as a garnish. Is it only the situation in which you use it? So if I put horseradish on something (like a burger) it's a condiment, but if I cook with it it's not...

I don't agree with the inclusion of honey, but honey mustard with ham is delicious. To be 'that guy', the stuff on bruschetta doesn't count because it's made with it?

Would you change your mind if I altered the name of Ketchup to 'thick tomato sauce'?