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Spaghetti, hotdogs and imperialism
Filipino and Japanese spaghetti are both cooked with ketchup and sliced hotdogs. What brought about the similarity?
Once upon a time, there was a fourth grader who was itching to cook her first dish. Her class was going on a field trip, lunch was potluck, and she decided she would bring spaghetti — accompanied, of course, by the proud announcement that she cooked it herself.
The noodles were rather soggy, the only meat was sliced hotdogs, and the sauce was a combination of tomato sauce (sour) and banana ketchup (sweet). Her classmates liked it (except for one girl who thought nothing of piercing the hotdog slices and leaving the noodles behind), and she was happy and proud.
Decades later, the girl became an accomplished home cook. Whenever the memory of the spaghetti from her fourth grade class field trip flashed through her mind (unbidden mostly), she chuckled (not without shame) and cringed at the same time. Whoever taught her how to cook spaghetti that way? She never could recall. Most probably, it was a recreation of the countless spaghetti dishes she had eaten in different houses on various occasions. Spaghetti was always served that way in the Philippines. At least, when she was a child.
The girl thought she had forever left behind that kind of cooking (surely, there was no need to recreate such an awful dish!) until she came upon a Japanese-language show on Netflix called Izakaya Bottakuri.
In Episode 8, the theme was childhood memories of food. The izakaya owner cooked soggy spaghetti with hotdogs, they called it naporitan and… well, the girl was so wide-eyed that her eyeballs could have popped out of their sockets. She had been to Japan more than once, and had eaten all the food she could manage, but she never encountered naporitan. Because, seriously, what kind of tourist looks for and orders spaghetti in Japan?
But what was more shocking to her was the similarity of Filipino spaghetti with Japanese spaghetti. Hotdogs. Ketchup. Both are as un-Italian as anything can be. Why is spaghetti in these two countries cooked with those two ingredients? She thought hard about it. When the answer finally dawned on her, she felt a bit stupid at not having realized the obvious much earlier.
The Americans, of course. It doesn’t really take a genius to figure that out. Spaghetti arrived in the Philippines and Japan via the Americans. Italy never colonized either country — neither before nor after the fall of Constantinople — and Italian diaspora never reached Southeast Asia.
The Philippines was a U.S. colony from 1898 until 1946. During this period, and thereafter forever after, the country has been an avid consumer (a dumping ground, really) of everything American including hotdogs, ketchup and American-style cooking.
After Japan lost in World War II, Allied forces led by the Americans occupied the country until the Treaty of San Francisco took effect in 1952. As with any nation that played host to American military forces, willingly or unwillingly, food was shipped / flown in from the States to feed the soldiers stationed in Japan. Locals learned to adapt cooking styles that pleased the Americans.
Japanese-style ketchup spaghetti — or naporitan (also pronounced as napolitan) — was invented in 1945 by the head chef of Hotel New Grand in Yokohama to suck up to Gen. Douglas MacArthur who was occupying the hotel as his headquarters and, later — quite predictably and inevitably — as residence for American military officers. The original naporitan had tomato puree and bacon, but these were substituted with ketchup and hotdogs (both cheaper) for home cooking.
In case you’re wondering… The girl (who is now a mother to two grown daughters) managed to replicate the naporitan from the Netflix show. Well, minus the soggy noodles.