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By Jason Offutt
There was something wrong with my hamburger. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say “wrong.” That’s like saying socialism is wrong when it’s simply seriously misguided. After taking a few bites, I peeled back the nicely toasted bun, crisp lettuce, sliced tomato, and discovered something I’d never find on a restaurant burger back home – mayonnaise.
Being an American, I thought mayonnaise was universally relegated to potato salad, chicken sandwiches, and tartar sauce. Sure, I’ve heard rumors that some people spread mayonnaise on their hamburgers, but I thought that was just a story mothers told children when they wanted them to become dieticians. I never considered it to be true.
If I’d given the menu more than just a cursory glance, I wouldn’t have been surprised. The last topping listed on every hamburger was mayonnaise. I put my burger back together and ate it. The mayonnaise wasn’t bad on my sandwich, really. I just hadn’t expected it.
Mayonnaise, a mixture of egg yolks, oil, vinegar, and a dab of mustard, can be traced to Spain, although the French stole it sometime in the 1700s to cover the taste of their food. Mayonnaise eventually made its way to London where normally sensible people decided to put it on things that, frankly, hurt my stomach. Like fried potatoes.
I have to differentiate London from the rest of Great Britain. Although the majority of Brits enjoy salt and vinegar on their chips (try it, it’s brilliant), and ketchup is a close second, Scots prefer brown sauce, people in the North of England like gravy, and the Welsh have a hankering for curry sauce. However, around a third of Londoners like to dip their chips in mayo. I did this as a child to gross out my sisters. It worked.
Although I have yet to witness anyone dipping chips in mayonnaise, with 2.5 million people in this town doing it, it’s only a matter of time.
Checking out the sauce aisle at my local Tesco grocery store, I stopped at the displays of condiments I recognized (there were a number I didn’t, like Jeotgal, and Gentleman’s Relish? Gentleman’s what? Oh, wait. It’s anchovy paste. Sorry, I just got sick in the corner). The ketchup display might have held enough bottles for a good backyard cookout back home. The mustard section was only slightly bigger (although Colman’s of Norwich Original English Mustard is painfully delicious). But if someone overturned the mayo shelves (it would have taken the entire Rugby League to do so), the spill may have caused traffic problems for a few blocks.
Mayonnaise is a quiet, polite condiment in the United States and never shows up anywhere unexpectedly. Canadians, however, like the British, eat mayonnaise on everything from fried potatoes to pancakes.
I think I need to have my cholesterol checked.
Jason Offutt’s column has been in continuous publication since 1998 appearing in newspapers and magazines across the United States. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheJasonOffutt.