When people think of Japanese food, they often imagine of the big hits like sushi, tempura, bowls of udon noodles, and miso soup. All of these dishes are delicious and typical traditional Japanese food, but many other dishes you will find across the country may surprise you. As with many world cuisines, some dishes have evolved over time and have mixed available ingredients with local tastes to make something truly unique.

One of these is the famous Spaghetti Napolitan which is a hybrid of different flavors and a firm favorite in the Japanese-Western food genre.


How did Spaghetti Napolitan get started?

Many dishes evolve organically, but the story behind Spaghetti Napolitan is rooted in Japanese history. Many chefs and historians mention that Spaghetti Napolitan came to Japan about around August 30, 1945, when the American commander General Douglas MacArthur traveled to Yokohama. Once there, he had dinner at the Hotel New Grand.

The head chef named Shigetada Irie was not sure what to cook for the American guest, so decided to improvise and make something from the items he had to hand. This was still a time when rationing was used in Japan and there were only a few imported ingredients available from outside the country. Still, the chef decided to make something to suit a Western palette, and Spaghetti Napolitan was born.

Everyone began to like eating this dish, so he kept creating it for other customers, and soon nearby restaurants heard of its success and started to make their versions. A common problem in Japan at the time, however, was that tomato puree or even fresh tomatoes were hard to come by. To get around this problem, many chefs started to use tomato ketchup as a substitute which was a very popular condiment in Japan in the 1950s and 1960s.


How did the dish get its name?

It is said that Chef Irie decided to call the dish Spaghetti Napolitan in honor of the city of Naples in Italy which was his inspiration for this pasta-based plate of food.In modern day Japan, the dish is now often referred to as ‘Naporitan’ which is a phonetic version of Napolitan, as the sounds ‘R’ and ‘L’ are similar in Japanese. As such, you might see this dish referred to in both ways on a Japanese menu.

What ingredients are used in Spaghetti Napolitan?
As this is a kind of fusion food, Spaghetti Napolitan can be made in a variety of ways according to the personal special recipe of each chef. In its most basic form, it consists of spaghetti and a tomato sauce which is mixed with fried garlic and other vegetables.

The tomato sauce can either be made with tomato puree or ketchup. In the early form of the dish, prepared by Chef Irie, bacon was sautéed and added to the sauce, although this proved too expensive for some cooks. As a result, bacon was often substituted for wiener sausages which were cheap and added more body to the dish.

Spaghetti Napolitan was already popular among American soldiers in Japan, but once local diners started to request it, many chefs cooked the spaghetti over several hours to make the pasta seem closer in consistency to udon noodles.


Where can we eat Spaghetti Napolitan?

This dish started out in Yokohama although now you can get it all over the country and a range of eateries have it on the menu. It is so famous nowadays that you can even buy instant versions of the dish that you can make at home by adding water.

If you are traveling to Japan, you will probably want to try sushi, sashimi, and a range of other dishes, but make sure not to miss Spaghetti Napolitan off the list. However it got its start, and whatever the true story behind it is, this is a delicious dish and a Japanese specialty in its right.