Spaghetti Napolitan is a type of pasta dish which has been a signature item on the menu of “Kissaten,” old Japanese style cafes for a long time. Many people in Japan recognize “Napolitan” as the name for spaghetti prepared using ketchup. It is a widely accepted menu item for anyone from kids to adults at restaurants or cafes.
What is Spaghetti “Napolitan”?
Generally speaking, the word “Napolitan” reminds people of something related to Naples and spaghetti Napolitan is supposed to have originated from Italy. However this dish is a Japanese original fried pasta created in Yokohama around 1935.
Spaghetti “Napolitan” consists of onion, green peppers, sausage or bacon, fresh pasta, and ketchup. The ketchup is used in moderation and doesn’t overpower the rest of the flavors: that is the key element of this pasta dish.
In general, ketchup is mainly used as a condiment, especially for eating with junk food. So some people will be surprised and frown to hear that ketchup is used when making “Napolitan,” but it has a well balanced flavor, is affordable, and has been quite popular among Japanese people.
Started at Hotel New Grand in Yokohama
Hotel New Grand in Yokohama, which was opened in 1927, was used as an accommodation for US occupying force members. Head chef Masataka Irie got an idea after seeing them making spaghetti with ketchup. Later, he created a spaghetti dish with tomato based sauce called spaghetti “Napolitan.” This dish is supposed to be the first spaghetti “Napolitan,” which you can savor at this hotel even now.
Please check these links for how to make Italian tomato spaghetti:
Coffee Shops and Cafes Use Ketchup to Make Napolitan
Center Grill at Noge in Yokohama is a subsidiary restaurant of Hotel New Grand. So it inherited the same recipe for Spaghetti Napolitan. However, at that time, it was quite hard to get Italian tomatoes from overseas. The chef at Center Grill had to use tomato ketchup instead of tomato sauce. This ketchup spaghetti spread in popularity and was copied by other cooks.
In these situations, Japanese cooks can be quite creative and keep producing various types of spaghetti Napolitan. This effort made spaghetti Napolitan a signature food at Kissaten, Japanese old style cafes around the country. This menu item has been loved as a soul food for workers who have very little time for lunch or dinner.
Please check this link:
A Boom of Italian Dinner Called “Ita-meshi”(イタ飯)
Around the 1990s there was a boom of Italian food as dinner for couples and families. Native Italian cooks or people who studied how to cook real Italian food started these businesses. People welcomed authentic Italian foods such as peperoncino, pizza, risotto, and tiramisu. In those 10 years, “Napolitan” had a hard time and lost its high popularity. Japanese people have noticed that “Napolitan” is not an authentic Italian food. However, “Napolitan” never disappeared completely from the menu.
Omiya Napolitan, as a Local Speciality
Former Omiya city, a part of Saitama City now, is recognized as a city of railways.
This is because in Omiya there was a huge area for the marshaling yards of the Japan Railway Company. At that time the workers there worked day and night. So in this area there were a lot of cafes which were open 24/7. Their signature dish was Spaghetti Napolitan, which was quickly served, satisfying, and affordable food for railway workers.
As time passed, the number of those cafes decreased. Now a brand called Omiya Napolitan 大宮ナポリタン was issued to commemorate and keep the good old days of eating spaghetti Napolitan in this area. The condition is very simple: restaurants which use at least one ingredient sourced from Omiya and make spaghetti Napolitan can name their dish Omiya Napolitan.
Please check these links about Omiya Napolitan:
In my opinion, people should have noticed that there is no use in comparing Japanese Spaghetti Napolitan to Italian authentic pasta dishes. Like many Yoshoku creations, the Japanese have taken ingredients from other cultures, combined them with items found on hand, and created a totally unique dining experience.
Spaghetti Napolitan is our lovable, tasty, and affordable dish which saves us when we are very swamped and starving. It survived an Italian dinner boom in Japan around the 1990s and has been a favorable food for Japanese people.
National Tour Guide (English), Eiken Grade 1, TOEIC A rank. Have been studying and teaching English for over 30 years.