French Fries, Catsup, and the Moral Decay of America

There was an exhibit this weekend called “Fries of New York” (yes, really) that explored some of the different types of french fries seen around the city. It was put on by Sir Kensington’s Ketchup, which is one of those ketchups you buy when you make a lot of money but you also have a wife and kids, so you can’t spend it on cool stuff like water jet packs or strippers and instead end up with the designer ketchup and a Prius. Good thing you went to grad school!

This whole artisanal condiment movement has gotten a bit out of hand to begin with. Reminds me of a scene like this…

I’m sitting elbow to elbow in a “hole in the wall” restaurant (read: cramped) in Williamsburg where the water is served room temperature, because that makes you more Bohemian or something (Ice? What are you, some Wall Street stiff?).

The flapper-girl waitress, back from a lunch break spent sitting on a flagpole, brings my $18 omelette and a very small side of lumpy “homemade” ketchup and asks if I’d like anything else.

Yeah, I would – how about an XL squeeze bottle of Heinz and a Spam sandwich with mayo, you Communist! I’m starting a Factory-to-Table countermovement and hiring a DC lobbying firm to give it a patriotic name like “Taking Back America”. This is the type of crap that makes me wish I lived in the 50’s, when real men viewed food as nothing but heartburn fuel and only discussed their emotional issues with sex workers.

*Deep breath*

Alright. Back to the fries.

French fries are a really great food and allow for a lot of personalization. I try and never judge someone based on what they do with their fries. You dip them in horseradish mixed with Dijon mustard? Sure, whatever you want, man. It’s your fry. You like to cover it in ranch dressing, like everything else you eat? It’s unfortunate that you’re from Pittsburgh – and doubly so that you betray the only redeeming thing about it (Heinz) – but this is America. Knock yourself out.

I have a buddy from college, Zack, who we used to call “The Condiment King”. Ol’ Zack did things with condiments that get you thrown in jail below the Mason-Dixon line. You think you’re suave because you know the right balance of ketchup and mayo for Fry Sauce? You’re not even minor league. This kid was like a tortured renaissance artist with condiments. Sometimes he’d make beautiful art, bringing a tear to my eye with Taco Bell packets; other times, he would bring to life a twisted creation that made me question whether humanity was a mistake. Regardless, he’s the reason I’m a libertarian when it comes to condiments.

A couple months ago I was at a Greek place in the LES that served a plate of fries with feta cheese on them. I was delighted – something new and interesting, just when I thought I had seen it all. Then I asked the waiter for some ketchup, and he looked at me like I had asked him for the hostess’ blood on the side. Souvlaki GR – you just lost my business. It’s my fry; I’ll dip it in my belly button if I feel like it, and I don’t need any funny looks from Constantinos for doing it.

There’s only three rules when it comes to fries:

1. Don’t do that crap where you spray the ketchup all over the top of them

I have more respect for someone who breaks wind* at the table. What are you, a toddler? Never mind how messy it is – it’s flat out stupid. You’re taking maybe ten of the fifty fries and dousing them in ketchup; the other forty are completely dry. I’m a man of extremes myself, but this? This is madness.

*Old-school sayings for ‘fart’ are awesome.

The haves and the have nots.

Sure, when it works out and you pluck the single perfectly covered fry, it’s a beautiful thing. It’s like looking across the bar and making eye contact with the most stunning girl in the whole place:

She giggles, looks down at her drink, then looks back at you. You put out your cigarette that you are illegally smoking indoors and confidently walk over to her, the patrons making way, your radiating confidence and the shadow casted by your penis actually clearing a physical path to the waiting damsel. “Hello there,” you say, motioning to the bartender who somehow knows what drink you want.

Does that ever happen? Of course not. In reality, you’re taking a dry, crusty fry and humping it against the side of the plate, trying to scoop up the last remnants of ketchup that fell through the cracks. That’s you at the bar at closing time: looking for something – anything – to hump.

2. Never throw them out

Fries are like batteries or aerosol cans: they should never be tossed in the trash. They need to be disposed of properly, which in this case means placed into someone’s mouth. Why would you throw away a fry? Every couple of Sundays I walk into my living room and find a couple leftover fries from a late night mistake session. What a treat.

In my gastrointestinal tract, we don’t turn anyone away. At the entrance to my stomach is a plaque:

“Give me your old, your soggy,
Your huddled masses yearning to be eaten,
The wretched refuse of your late-night meal.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift your fry into my oral door!”

Only McDonalds fries shouldn’t be eaten the next day; if you eat next-day McDonalds, you probably have pica.

3. “Snag a few” until told to stop

This is a preview to a longer Mooching 101 guide, but it also gets a spot on the fry rules. If someone next to you has fries, you’re allowed to keep eating them – one at a time (strict rule) – until they tell you to stop. It’s considered good form to announce your plans beforehand; nobody likes it if you just start grabbing at their food without warning. “Snag” is my preferred word to use; it seems innocuous and implies that you’re only doing it once.

“Lemme snag a fry?”

Lean forward as you say it; when done properly, you should already be holding said fry by the time the sentence is ending. It’s now on them to ask you to stop. You’ve done everything required; at this point, the Stand Your Ground law takes over.

An experienced fry-snagger can go five, maybe six fries in before his host says something like “Alright, alright, take it easy.”A fingersmith like me? I’ll keep a guy laughing, engaged, talking about his fantasy football team, checking out that girl over there – no, not her, the other one – for a good half hour. By the time he looks down, I’ve bled him dry, letting him eat just enough to convince himself it wasn’t me, sending him home to his girlfriend hungry and confused.

It’s all in the fingers.


– By Jack Gashi