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October 1, 2013

Wow. People came out of the woodwork yesterday to read about the misdoings of Dunkin’ Donuts. As a result, part of me is tempted to create a Donut Week as we lead into the Fourth Annual Tour de Donut this Saturday.

But I’m not going to do that. Mostly because I have another pressing concern on my mind. This one is a bit more personal. Perhaps it’s something others can relate to. Even those of you who aren’t in New Jersey.

If you were to ask me what condiment defines upstate New York, I would answer Frank’s Red Hot. In Philadelphia it has to be Cheez Whiz. Miami is mojo. Without a doubt New Jersey is saltpepperketchup. Yes, technically that’s three things. But they are always combined into a single word, and it’s supposed to go on a range of food from egg sandwiches to cheesesteaks.

There’s only one problem.

When I travel to a new land, I think it’s a good idea to try and adopt the local customs. In Chicago I’ll perform the unthinkable act of eating pizza with a fork and knife. Mostly because there is no other way to realistically do it. In Pittsburgh I’ll get French fries on my sandwich, and then be amazed that I don’t ask for this step to be taken everywhere I eat.

In New Jersey when the counter person asks, “Saltpepperketchup?” I say, “Yes, please.”

Sometimes new flavors take a while to take hold. I remember the first time I had one of the Capital Region’s mini dogs with meat sauce, and I thought it was disgusting. But the first time I tried dim sum too I was also thoroughly nonplussed.

Here’s the issue. I’m having a real difficult time with this saltpepperketchup thing. It’s not the salt, I love salt. And salt on top of salt is also fine. It’s not even the crap industrial food grade black pepper flakes that are used instead of the real thing. Pepper-shaker pepper isn’t entirely without its charms.

It’s the ketchup.

Let’s forget that most ketchup is really just another vehicle for high fructose corn syrup these days. Sure, it’s a problem. But most bread is also filled with the stuff, so if you are eating out at a sandwich shop, you better not get hung up on these realities of modern life. One cannot be a hermit, exclusively eating clean food in the comfort of one’s own home.

I happen to like ketchup. It’s the great American sauce. I use it on French fries, and occasionally will dab some on a hamburger. Ketchup is practically a necessity on a meatloaf sandwich. I’ve even been known to put it on inappropriate foods. And one of my great childhood memories is enjoying scrambled egg sandwiches with ketchup. It’s one of the few tastes that brings me back to my youth.

But ketchup on pork roll sandwiches with egg and cheese may have to be where I draw the line. I would probably get dragged through the streets if I said something like this in Trenton, but pork roll is fairly similar to a fat hot dog. And ketchup has no place anywhere near it.

Pork roll is a regional delicacy, much like scrapple in Pennsylvania or Flint chili in Michigan. And I’m working on developing an appreciation of pork roll’s ins and outs. But its delicate smoked pork flavor gets completely overwhelmed by ketchup’s sweetness.

I think I’ll need to have a heart to heart with some New Jersey natives, and perhaps they can explain the appeal. And just maybe there are others who have similar stories about other regional customs that they just cannot abide.

Part of me thinks the answer is to just power through this problem. Perhaps, the more pork roll I try with saltpepperketchup, the more I’ll be able to appreciate the flavor combination. And that may be true, but I also am concerned that each time I have one of these sandwiches, I’m not adequately appreciating the pork roll because it’s masked by the flavor of this seemingly inappropriate condiment.

You know, it’s hard to be me. Maybe I should just stick to donuts.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 1, 2013 9:56 am

    QUEBEC. Mayonnaise. On everything. UGH.

  2. Callie Y. permalink
    October 1, 2013 11:28 am

    Love this! We moved to Maryland 2.5 years ago from NJ and it does take some getting used to when it comes to new regional foods (although, I’m allergic to most seafood so Maryland’s crab cakes are lost on me.) You’d be surprised but you won’t get tarred and feathered if you decline the saltpepperketchup on your Pork roll, Egg & Cheese. This Jersey Girl always passed on it. I don’t care for the extra salt or pepper. You can decide on just how much ketchup you want on your sandwich. I love ketchup, but on my PrE&C I like just a little bit of ketchup. It doesn’t decimate the flavor of the Pork Roll.

    (And kudos for calling it Pork Roll! North Jersey is infamous for calling it Taylor Ham. o.O )

  3. Josh K. permalink
    October 1, 2013 2:51 pm

    My wife, from Northern NJ always refers to the Pork Roll egg sandwich as “TaylorEggNCheesesaltpepperketchup”

  4. October 1, 2013 11:37 pm

    My husband puts ketchup on hot dogs. And almost everything else. I find that mostly disgusting — ketchup doesn’t belong on most things, except maybe a hamburger, or in a container next to my fries in case they’re not good enough on their own. It definitely, absolutely, positively, does not belong on a hot dog (or hot dog facsimile).

  5. Raf permalink
    October 2, 2013 12:16 am

    I think a pork roll sammich is the (s)pam and cheese. jersey breakfast is the taylor ham, egg, cheese, spk.

    funny, the parallel to your dunkin post is really that pork roll is also fake food – it’s called pork roll because it’s not allowed to be called ham. also, american cheese isn’t really cheese is it?


  1. Pork Roll Sandwiches of New Jersey | Sandwich Tribunal

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