What ketchup bottle manufacturers can learn from a drinks stall uncle

Pouring milk
[image by Nicholas Moore]

My posterior hurt. It was a slow sultry afternoon, and my friends and I were hanging out at a hawker centre. We had dinner there and continued to chat. Then I couldn’t stand it any more and stood up. The seat was hard, and I was starting to lose sensation in my gluteus maximus.

I needed a drink anyway, so I went to a drinks stall to order teh si siu dai.

In the Hokkien dialect, teh means tea with condensed milk and sugar (when ordered from a typical drinks stall in Singapore. Otherwise it just literally translates to “tea”.). teh si means tea with evaporated milk (and sugar). Evaporated milk is less sweet than condensed milk, so sugar is typically added to the tea. siu dai means less sugar. So, say it with me, teh si siu dai means tea with evaporated milk and less sugar.
[end digression]

The drinks stall uncle found that his current can of evaporated milk ran out. (In Singapore, “uncle” can be used to address any male who’s older than you. If you really want to get into the Singapore mode of speech, pronounce it as “unk-uh”, without curling your tongue to form the “l” sound.) So he brought out a new can of evaporated milk, and what appeared to be an ice pick.

He placed the sharp end of the ice pick at one edge of the top of the can. He held it in place with one hand, then with his other hand, hammered the handle of the pick, and bored a hole into the can in one smooth motion.

My first thought was, “I would have used a can opener”.

Before I could finish that thought, the uncle took that ice pick, placed the sharp end at the other edge side of the can, and bored a hole there.

Tin can with holes by ice pick (top view)

My next thought was, “Why did he bore that second hole?”

Before I could finish that thought, the uncle held the can up and half-filled a glass with evaporated milk.

In that instant, I answered my own question. It was to let the air flow in, so a vacuum wasn’t created, so the evaporated milk would pour out smoothly.

Side view of bored tin can

And immediately after I got that insight, questions surfaced. “Why didn’t they do it for ketchup bottles? Why are ketchup bottles designed the way they are? Ketchup’s viscous, so why a small opening to make your life miserable? Why… oh thank you uncle.” My teh si siu dai was ready, and I took my drink back to my seat.

Well, I was never much of a condiment kind of guy, so ketchup bottles didn’t bother me much. Then again, in these modern times, I don’t see ketchup bottles in use any more. But just in case

today’s whippersnappers, lacking experience with this task in the home environment, need instruction all the more if they are to avoid a public faux pas and consequent humiliation

I will refer you to a definitive guide on ketchup decantation.

That’s it. Unless you want to know about the different variations of tea in Singapore…


  1. But Ketchup doesn’t flow as well as condensed milk. I’m sure if you put condensed milk in a ketchup bottle, they can flow out nicely if you pour it in a 45degree angle

  2. This article is awesome even when compared to the other awesome articles in your blog.

  3. @DK – I’m sure condensed milk flows out just fine even if confined in a ketchup bottle. It’s a good thing that ketchup bottles are now soft plastic, which allows squeezing. I don’t know what the original ketchup bottle designer was thinking…

    @Christopher – Thank you. I’ll try to write more awesome stuff.