Kecap manis and tomato ketchup: long-lost cousins?

photo of kecap manisThose of you who’ve visited Indonesia already will know what kecap manis is. In fact, there may well be several die-hard kecap fans out there – it is pretty addictive stuff, after all.

If you’ve not heard of it before, kecap manis is a kind of thick, dark, sweet soy sauce common in Indonesia. It’s often used as an ingredient in sauces to add a bit of sweetness, even giving its name to certain dishes– like babi kecap. It is also commonly used as a condiment to drizzle over pretty much anything you want.

The two most famous brands of kecap manis are Kecap ABC and Kecap Bango. While Kecap ABC is relatively easy to find around the world, Kecap Bango – my personal favourite – is a little trickier to find. If I ever see it in stock somewhere over here, I tend to buy up and much as I can!

The word ‘kecap’ (pronounced ‘KE-chap’) sounds very similar to ‘ketchup’ and there’s good reason for that. Many people believe that ‘kicap’ (from Malaysia) or ‘kecap’ (from what is now Indonesia) was the inspiration for the English fruit sauces that later were England to North America then mixed with tomatoes to form what we now know as ‘tomato ketchup’ (if you want to know more about the history of ketchup, take a look at this article). In fact, one of the earliest mentions of it in the English language was as ‘Catchup: a high East-India Sauce.

Even if this wasn’t the direct etymology of ‘ketchup’, it’s likely that ‘kecap’ and ‘ketchup’ shared a common ancestor in the Chinese word ‘kê-chiap’, which was a kind of fish sauce.

So, that’s what kecap manis is and how it might be related to tomato ketchup. If you want to test the theory, pick up a bottle of ketchup manis at the supermarket and mix it with a little tomato puree. The result is very similar to tomato ketchup – actually, I slightly prefer it.

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