Zoobditty Mutch: A Curious Condiment From 18th Century Britain
Image Credit: Zoobditty Mutch was among the condiments that graced the most fashionable of tables in 18th century Britain.

“ZOOBDITTY MUTCH” may sound like nothing more than a bit of jabberwocky. But in 18th century England, this curiously named and fictional-sounding item was among the most desired of condiments for the fashionable set. At least if advertisements placed by traders and grocers are anything to go by. 

The Cookbook Of Unknown Ladies classifies Zoobditty Mutch (sometimes spelled as “Match”) as a “prepared sauce”. This glossary further cites a notice that was published in the London newspaper ‘Public Advertiser’ back in 1776 to summon up a description: “a Curious East Indian Fish sauce, which for its peculiar rich Flavour exceeds every thing of the kind hitherto made use of”. The ingredients are not mentioned, or as The Cookbook notes, they “remain a mystery”.

Zoobditty Mutch was not a “fish sauce” as we now understand the condiment today, courtesy our globalised palates. Unlike the fermented fish/krill-based sauce that is used as an ingredient in Asian cuisine, Zoobditty Mutch was a sauce for fish.

NM Penzer, an Oriental Studies scholar and Royal Geographical Society fellow (known for his translation of the tale of Nala and Damayanti in 1926, from the Sanskrit), had some theories about the provenance of the sauce’s peculiar name. According to Penzer, Zoobditty Mutch was “a corruption of two Indian terms”: ‘joobitty’, meaning tasty, and ‘machli’, i.e. fish. The latter connection seems clear enough, but the ‘joobitty’ is tougher to confirm in the absence of other reputable sources from the era. 

What’s certain though, is that the sauce was promoted as an exotic and rich addition to fish dishes, suitable for “the most fashionable tables”. The other condiments that kept Zoobditty Mutch company in these rarefied echelons included “Essence of Anchovies, Imperial Sauce, Sauce Espagnole, Cherokee Sauce, Mushroom Ketchup, Quince Sauce, Oyster Ketchup, Camp Sauce, Sauce Piquante, India Soy, Coratch, Sauce Royal, Walnut Ketchup, Lemon Pickle (and) Cavice”

Fresh shipments from the “colonies” were always a matter of great interest to the wealthier households as evinced by another announcement that ran in the 'Morning Post and Daily Advertiser', in November of 1786. “The Nobility and Gentry are most respectfully informed, that they may be supplied with any quantity of fine Patna Rice,” the declaration begins, before listing other goods that can also be supplied — mangoes from India, bamboo pickle, Japanese soy sauce, “true Curry Powder”, preserved tamarind and “East and West India Ginger”.

Sadly, despite the many well-preserved advertisements for Zoobditty Mutch, the same cannot be said for recipes. What does exist, however, is a printed menu from the food shop at the Hôtel des Américains in Paris, which carried international delicacies, wines and liquors. Opened in 1765, it was the centre of the European gourmet world for nearly a century, and its impressive array of offerings included, as the New York Public Library notes, “a considerable selection of ‘English Goods’, many of which show the already-strong colonial influence on the English palate: curry, India achars, and a fish sauce called Zoobditty Mutch”.