Spaghetti Napolitan

napolitan1.jpg

Continuing my yohshoku mini-marathon, here’s the infamous Japan-ized pasta dish called Napolitan or Naporitan. (Japanese doesn’t have an L or R sound, which is why Japanese people often mix them up when speaking Western languages.) As far as I know, there’s nothing remotely Neapolitan about Napolitan, except for the use of spaghetti. It is made with a creamy ketchup-based sauce, and has the salty-sweet flavors that Japanese people love.

According to Wikipedia Japan (Japanese link), Spaghetti Napolitan was invented shortly after World War II, by the head chef of the hotel in Yokohama that was used as the U.S. military headquarters by General Douglas MacArthur. He allegedly got the idea from the spaghetti and tomato sauce eaten by the U.S. troops. Over the years the recipe was tweaked, using ketchup instead of the tomato puree in the original recipe for example, since the latter was hard to come by for most Japanese people at the time. There are some Napolitan recipes calling for crushed tomatoes or tomato puree, but using ketchup is, as odd as it may sound, the more ‘authentic’ way.

To make Spaghetti Napolitan that is as ‘authentic’ as you might get in Japan, you’ll want to cook the spaghetti a minute or two over the al dente stage. Up until pretty recently (say the last 20-30 years or so), Japanese people preferred their pasta to be soft, like other noodles they were used to like soba, udon or Chinese style noodles (and as Chinalily commented here, the ‘soft pasta’ preference is seen in other Asian countries too.) You can even cook the noodles in advance and then re-heat them in the pan, something that purist Italian cooks would gasp in horror at but is the standard way of dealing with Japanese style noodles. Do remember that this is an adaptation by one culture of the food of another to suit existing tastes.

I have to admit, I hadn’t made Napolitan in years. I’m more used to the Italian style al dente pasta now. But I made this for Sunday lunch, and found it surprisingly tasty - it brought back all kinds of memories of my childhood.

Recipe: Spaghetti Napolitan

For two rather generous servings:

  • 150g / about 5 oz. dry spaghetti (no. 8 thickness)
  • 4 wiener sausages or frankfurters
  • 1 large sweet pepper (here I used 1/3rd each of red, yellow and green pepper for color)
  • 5-6 button mushrooms
  • 2 Tbs. butter or light cooking oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup ketchup (Heinz is what I used)
  • 2 Tbs. Bulldog tonkatsu sauce
  • 2 Tbs. heavy cream

Boil the spaghetti while you’re cooking the other ingredients in plenty of salted water. Cook it a minute or two beyond the al dente stage for authenticity, or stop at the al dente stage if this bothers you.

Slice the onion, pepper and mushrooms thinly. Slice the sausages in thin, diagonal slices (you can cut them into octopus shapes and the like if you’re entertaining the kids).

Heat up a wok or large frying pan with the butter or oil or a combination. (Using lard here would make it closer to the original version.) Sauté the onion until transclucent, then add the peppers and mushrooms and sauté until it’s all limp. Add the sausage slices and sauté until lightly browned. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

In the meantime, combine the ketchup, Bulldog sauce and cream in a small bowl.

Drain the spaghetti once it’s cooked. Add to the pan. Add the sauce mixture and toss well to combine.

Serve immediately, optionally topped with plenty of grated cheese, and/or a dash of Tabasco.

Kids love this - at least, Japanese kids do.

Notes

If you don’t have Bulldog sauce, use steak sauce and add about a teaspoon or so of honey.

You can use ham or bacon instead of the wieners (or in addition to).

Canned mushrooms are often used in this, but that’s where I draw the line.

Napolitan, the original Wafuu pasta

I’ve written here previously about wafuu pasta, pasta with Japanese ingredients and flavors. I think it’s safe to say Napolitan was the original wafuu pasta - even though it uses Western ingredients, the dish as a whole was adapted to Japanese tastes of the time. (The kind of wafuu pasta that are on this page were developed much later, probably in the 1970s, and use actual Japanese ingredients such as tarako (salted cod roe) and natto (fermented soy beans).

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Mmm!

This looks really flavorful and delicious! Nice job.

Hillary | 2 April, 2008 - 23:36

Perhaps you or your readers

Perhaps you or your readers could help me with a dilemma. I have been given several pounds of a sort of yohshohku-in-reverse: teriyaki-flavored reindeer sausage. It looks like beef summer sausage, except lighter, and it’s packaged in 1.5-ounce sticks.

There are not exactly many recipes out there for teriyaki-flavored summer sausage, whether or not it contains reindeer meat. I was thinking that something with Japanese inspiration might be good. So if you had something like this to use up, what would you do with it?

Jenny Islander | 4 April, 2008 - 00:32

Jenny, you could try using

Jenny, you could try using it the way wieners are used in Japanese cooking - sliced up and used in stir fries, salads, in pasta (like instead of the wieners in this recipe) and so on.

maki | 5 April, 2008 - 03:28

Yumm

That looks good =P I’m not so sure how ketchup will taste with spaghetti, but I’ll give it a shot! It shouldn’t be that weird, it is tomato-based! Thanks for the recipe :D

Steph | 4 April, 2008 - 23:33

o/` na po ri tan o/`

This is awesome! Ever since watching the Japanese Drama “Kuitan”, I’ve wondered what ingredients were in Napolitan. Now if only Bulldog sauce wasn’t $6 a bottle at the supermarket here. I need to get to the Asian market and see if they charge the same there.

Sile | 15 April, 2008 - 14:23

tried it

i always get this in a local restaurant and tried your recipe.
It turned out pretty good, although I didn’t have heavy cream and put in milk instead.

allan | 6 June, 2008 - 03:13

:3 <3

Haha~!

I’ve had this before but I never knew what it was. So thanks for telling me~ :3

I made it myself but differently, probably. I kind of just watched this guy named Araki Hirofumi make it on the “Prince DVD.” it was amazing @_____@

He didn’t exactly add the same ingredients, but it was still awesome :B You could search it on youtube most probably. of course he’s speaking japanese but you get the general idea of it.

I’ll give this recipe a try though~ <3 :3

Lucy | 9 August, 2008 - 08:13

Re: Spaghetti Napolitan

From a Neapolitan point of view, more than the overcooked spaghetti, what horrifies me the most is the thought of using ketchup instead of tomato sauce o_o as much as I'm concerned it would be the same as using mustard; I do always try foreign cusine and generally like it very much, I'm also really fond of Japan and Japanese foods, but this is where I draw my line... the ketchup it's too sweet! Mamma mia!

Giada | 26 January, 2009 - 17:07

Re: Spaghetti Napolitan

Giada, I agree that the ketchup is a frightening notion to those like us for whom napolitana is the old favourite Italian sauce Mama used to make,. However, we never stuck frankfurters in our napolitana sauce either. So first of all, I accept that this is an entirely different dish with a similar name inspired by our dish. Secondly, since it's got frankfurters in it (which I happen to love) I'm quite happy to give it a go with ketchup. After all, ketchup goes beautifully with frankfurters.

Finally, when I taste it I have to judge it on it's own merits and not compare it to what I usually make. I suspect I'm gonna enjoy it.

Franco | 22 July, 2009 - 14:25

Re: Spaghetti Napolitan

Just wanted to say thank you for this and the other great recipes on your site.

I've modified the Napolitan sauce a little, replaced some of ketchup with chili sauce, omitted the wieners and added some chopped shiitake mushrooms along with the button mushrooms. It's quick to make, very tasty and a big hit with my family.

Cora | 19 March, 2009 - 02:37

Re: Spaghetti Napolitan

I was watching an anime called Crossgame, and came across this dish called Napolitan and had to find out what it was. You would think using ketchup as the main sauce is strange, but it's the basis of my secret Pad Thai and Mac and Cheese recipe! By the way, the Napolitan above looks so delicious...I may just go and make one right now :)

Peter | 12 January, 2010 - 03:40

Re: Spaghetti Napolitan

LOL @ Cross Game, I came here because of that too.

LOL | 4 March, 2010 - 00:35

Re: Spaghetti Napolitan

I wish there could be also some video added, so that its much easier for us viewers to follow..... :)

ruru _3012 | 23 May, 2010 - 18:32

Re: Spaghetti Napolitan

seems like a simple dish of spaghetti, but doesnt know how it taste like? taste more like ketchup? sounds a bit odd - -"

TechMostWanted | 5 August, 2010 - 09:53

This totally cracks me up but it's totally OISHI !!!

when i first learned about this dish i laughed to myself, "leave it to the japanese to put a twist on italian pasta." when i made it, well, i totally LOVED it! Wowee!!! there is nothing like it (nor should there be) in italy. this is a totally japanese concoction. well, i grew up in hawaii, so you have LOTS of japanese-influenced dishes that actually don't exist in japan! i'm used to this type of improvisation. so, try this dish and indulge yourself. Oishi, oishi!!!

Just_Tina | 5 August, 2010 - 10:02

Re: Spaghetti Napolitan

One of our neighbors, who had moved to New York from Japan after the war, made this for me when I was little. Her version used bacon cooked with onions, enough ketchup to turn it dark pink, then toss the lot with spaghetti. Then she wrapped it in some sort of seaweed (probably nori) and handed it over to two-year-old, finicky eater me.

My mom held her breath and prayed I'd turn it down politely.

Instead I ate the whole thing and then licked the plate. (Mom cringed.)

We called it Japanese Spaghetti and Mom's version (sans seaweed) was our choice for birthdays, Christmas, Arbor Day, you name it.

Best food ever. I make it for my family now.

Annemarie | 29 August, 2010 - 03:30

Re: Spaghetti Napolitan

Use Worcestershire sauce if there is no bulldog. Harumi's version uses some chicken stock powder.

anon. | 9 February, 2011 - 13:34

Re: Spaghetti Napolitan

I had made this before but with different ingredients. I used ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, onions, bacon, and a bell pepper. I never cooked it with heavy cream, mushrooms, sausage or any of that other stuff.but it looks really good. :D

Qua | 29 March, 2011 - 23:22

Re: Spaghetti Napolitan

My husband is Japanese and this dish is his childhood favourite. I made it for him and my 2 toddlers, they ate everything! Thank you!

Mrs H | 30 June, 2012 - 15:14

Re: Spaghetti Napolitan

My husband is Japanese and this dish is his childhood favourite. I made it for him and my 2 toddlers, they ate everything! Thank you!

Mrs H | 30 June, 2012 - 15:14

A question about sauce

Hi Maki,

I like your recipe! I have a bottle of okonomiyaki sauce. Can I use it to replace tonkatsu sauce?

Thanks!

Joy Z | 10 July, 2012 - 15:57

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