KC 130 - Spaghetti Napolitan

KC 130 - Spaghetti Napolitan

Why hello there! And welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, the site that’s gone full weeaboo to a power of two! I’m your host with the most, your Bunraku otaku, JON O’GUIN. Today’s post continues our theme from last Thursday of Japanese satisfaction, while taking some hints from last Monday’s confusing fusion situation, all while not being planned at all! How did this come to pass? How did we achieve so much without a plan? Well my friends, wonder no more as we abandon the…plan, for spaghetti napolitan!

 

Something’s Happening Here. What it is, Ain’t Exactly Clear.

Before we continue, I want to apologize for that sloppy second use of "plan" in the last sentence of the proceeding paragraph. I’m a little wibbly wobbly timey wimey at the moment, as things have taken a weird turn in the past couple days, and it’s all my fault! See, for the past couple weeks, I’ve been up in Leavenworth, Washington, my Rome away from home, hanging out with my friends, and (infrequent) site contributors JJ Hernandez and Joe Seguin.

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INfrequent contributors, quite frequent consumers. 

While here, I’m helping out with the Krampus Kave, the comic book, board game, and oddities store that Joe owns and runs! And that I definitely agreed to open this Sunday and Monday! Which is perfectly fine, it just means I have to finish this post Sunday night, because I won’t have time to work on it Monday morning. So I just have to crank it all out between Friday, Saturday, and Sunday! …At which point I immediately scheduled something Saturday night. And drank on Friday. Which is now.

Which is why it’s now 1 AM on a (legally) Saturday morning, I’m at the bad end of a pile of Rolling Rock and I’m cranking out some word count so I don’t hate myself come Monday morning!

On top of that, I made 2 crucial errors about this post. See, as I wrote a couple times last week, I thought maybe my brother would cover it, utterly forgetting that he’s actually in Oklahoma or some similar wasteland this weekend for an emergency meeting with a virologist. I’m sure it’s nothing.

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IN an unrelated question, what do you think of this new outfit? I'm just thinking of trying it out. 

“No problem,” the part of my brain that never stops being confident said, “we can just use a recipe we made before we came out here!” Which is a valid thing to say…if I had literally any of the COOKBOOKS I used accessible to me out here. So I had pictures I couldn’t use, a post I needed written, AND as a thank-you to Joe for letting me stay at his place, I wanted to do something nice for him.

 

The Heart of to-Mato

Now, if you couldn’t tell by his title of “Site Otaku”, Joe is something of a Japan-o-phile himself. (and, as a linguistic lifeline in case you’re confused by a phrase I’ve used twice in two posts, that’s what “weeaboo” means as well: a white person infatuated with Japanese culture and media. It comes, indirectly, from the webcomic Perry Bible Fellowship, and the cesspool of humanity that is 4chan. Let us speak no more of it.) And we were actually watching Isekai Izakaya “Nobu” together last week, before I wrote about it for the site, due to an unlikely coincidence.

I mentioned, mere seconds ago, that Joe runs a comic book/board game/general nerd store. One aspect of running such a business is going over previews and placing orders: in short, companies send the stores magazines of what they’re GOING to be making in a couple months, and saying “do you want this?” So last week, JJ was flipping through the previews, seeing if he thought anything looked cool, while I recklessly endangered myself with finger hands.

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Hands on hands on hands. I'm just like Stephen Strange! 

He happened to stop on a page, and what looked like a manga caught my eye. “What’s that?” I said, pointing. (and pointing, And pointing.) JJ glanced at the book. “Supernatural Izakaya “Nobu””he read aloud, “A small Japanese pub’s front door opens to a parallel world.” “That sounds cool.” “Yeah, sure.” At this point, someone wanted to buy some Pokemon cards, which, yes, ARE still a thing, so I moved on with my day. It wasn’t until hours later, as Joe flipped through streaming services for something to watch, that we landed on Crunchyroll, where they were announcing that one of their series had JUST gotten new episodes that day, and I realized I recognized the last 2/3rds of the name, from earlier that day.

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Jon, there are only two words in the title there. 
SHUT UP, PAST ME. 

Now, here’s a funny thing about Joe. Or, more likely, me. See, while Joe watches a lot of anime, sells manga, and builds Gundam models from time to time, his knowledge of actual Japanese culture isn’t as thorough as mine. I say that might be a funny thing about me, because I may just be a fucking know-it-all. Like, the other day, I stated I knew “next to nothing” about K-Pop, a genre of music (specifically, pop music from Korea, hence the K.) popular with many younger people for…reasons I’ve never fully investigated. I mean, I find many of their songs catchy and energetic, so it’s entirely possible that’s it. THE POINT IS that I stated I knew “next to nothing” about the genre, but I can still easily rattle off 5 big bands in the genre (Red Velvet, Big Bang, BTS, BlackPink, Girl’s Generation), I can identify at least 2 currently popular K-Pop songs (“Ddu-du ddu-du”, “Red Flavor”) as well as a former K-Pop/R&B artist (Rain). And so we’re clear, this music is not just FROM Korea, it is 70-90% IN KOREAN, a language I do not speak nor read. Thus, when I say “I don’t know” anything about a subject, that could entail anything from having literally never heard the term before to “I could only speak about the topic for 5-10 minutes if called upon.”

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In order to pick the perfect picture for this tangent, I had to watch over 20 minutes of young Korean women dancing and flirting with the camera. 
Truly, the most strenuous task I've ever endured for the site. 

The reason this came up is because almost every episode of Isekai Izakaya “Nobu” tells you what the main dish of the episode is. And when I saw the name “spaghetti napolitan”, I flinched. Because I KNEW that recipe. And I disapproved of it. Joe, on the other hand, had eaten recipes LIKE it, but didn’t know it had a name. We debated the pros and cons of the dish, and I decided to make it, since facing my distaste for certain foods is an ongoing perk of the site that never gets old. Fucking cioppino.

What makes spaghetti napolitan distasteful to me? Well, stay tuned and find out! (Or, you know, just Google it and spoil the surprise for yourself. That is well within your rights.)

 

Yo Shoku, How’s The Zulu?

Referencing African emperors from the late 1700’s in the midst of Japanese versions of spaghetti is an amazingly narrow niche, and yet I fill it admirably. Now, Spaghetti Napolitan is a fairly simple recipe, at the end of the day. IT’s a couple veggies, meat, noodles, and sauce. It’s an example of what is called in Japan yōshoku, or “Western Food”. This is…technically, a type of Fusion cuisine, though at this point, it’s been integrated into Japanese culture for around 100-150 years, so Japan just thinks of it as “Japanese” food. The basic premise of the cuisine is, during the Meiji Restoration, a lot of westerns came to Japan to help the country modernize, by which we mean industrialize, and by “help”, let’s all just remember that this era STARTED with a US Warship rolling into a harbor and saying “Hey, I got food, and I got mortar shells. Which do you want to taste?”

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It was a good thing we sent him in the new ships, because Matthew C Perry was the most Winnie-the-Pooh looking motherfucker I've ever seen in the Navy. 
"Oh Bother, I've got my head stuck in the sake pot." 

The incredible cultural changes and industrialized warfare introduced to the Japanese people aside, there were actually plenty of interesting cultural exchanges that happened. And a big one was in yōshoku. Basically, what would happen is westerners would come to Japan, work on various projects, and eventually go “damn, you know what I could really use right now? A steak bordelaise” And the Japanese chef he was talking to would say “I have no idea what the hell that last word was.” “Oh, it’s like, a sauce.” “You want steak in sauce? I can make that. What’s the sauce?” “Umm. It’s like, red wine, mushrooms, shallots, beef broth…” And the thing that the guy WOULDN’T say is “this is like, a chunk of meat, with sauce on top.” So what he GOT was basically a curry made with French Steak Sauce.

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Thing is, he still ate the whole thing. 

That’s called “Hayashi Rice”, or “Hashed Rice”, and has been a Japanese dish since 1868 or so. Also, it definitely didn’t go exactly like that story. (The dish kind of existed before a French Engineer said, ‘this reminds me of something I would eat back home”, and gave ingredients and ideas to make it more like that. Spaghetti Napolitan, on the other hand, is around 75 years old. It was created by the head chef of a Hotel in Tokyo following World War 2, based on something he was seeing a lot of those days: Military rations.

American GI’s, stationed in Tokyo, led to the chef attempting to recreate the spaghetti he was seeing served in those rations. He named it “Napolitan”, because he was told spaghetti was from Italian cities like Naples. Let’s see how he did.

 

A Universally PANNED Recipe

One slightly weird thing about Japanese spaghetti: I’ve mentioned a couple times that a lot of American variations on other cuisines arose because immigrants found themselves in a country with just, TONS of food to be had. Small amounts of meat were increased to entrees, meat was ADDED to meals that didn’t have them! Spaghetti and Meatballs ISN’T a very Italian dish, for this reason. Spaghetti came with a meat SAUCE, and then there were meals of meatballs cooked in sauce, and Italian immigrants went ‘holy crap, there’s so much beef here, we can do BOTH AT THE SAME TIME.”

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"We're-a gonna live'a like kings!" 
"What do kings die of, again?"
"Mostly heart disease."

Japan tends to go…the opposite direction. Like, Japanese dishes are mostly very contained, focused affairs. I couldn’t find a SINGLE recipe for spaghetti napolitan that was designed for more than 2 people. As such, the core recipe is simple: boil your spaghetti, then make the sauce in a pan or skillet. Add the pasta, toss to combine, and serve. The problem is, I was cooking for at least 3 people, so I doubled the recipe. This was a BAD IDEA. We’ll get into why later.  But for now, just start slicing things. Spaghetti Napolitan has a fairly normal spread of veggies for its sauce: You start with some green bell pepper, and onion, and slice it all.

Then you get a bunch of Mushrooms, and slice them up. At around this time, you should turn the heat on for your noodles, since you need the water boiling. I say this to you NOW, with the gift of hindsight. I actually waited until I had already cooked my noodles, and ended up literally waiting for water to boil while my aromatics got more and more brown.

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He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable pot is chiefly what I hate.

The other ingredient you’ll need is sausage. Now, my recipes weren’t super precise on what KIND of sausage, throwing around words like “Italian” or “compressed fish” (No thank you, Japan.) And, having cooked this recipe, either they missed a step, or they’re referring to something like, a salami. Because they just want you to slice the sausage, and raw Italian sausage doesn’t slice for SHIT.

Anywho, once you’ve boiled your pasta, somehow wrangled your sausage into a manageable system, and softened the shit out of your veggies, it’s time for the secret ingredient! The reason I initially didn’t like this recipe! The heart and soul of its sauce: ketchup.

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brand name withheld to protect the innocent. 
Also, is that a wooden pitchfork in the background? 

Yes, this is spaghetti cooked, not in tomato sauce, not in tomato paste, but in actual, direct ketchup. And that… look, it feels cheap to me. I once lived on nothing but Chicken Top Ramen and MILK for a week, and I don’t think I’ve ever intentionally eaten spaghetti made with ketchup instead of “actual sauce”. And that’s…not Japan’s problem.

Yeah, the thing is, while that’s certainly a potential mental block for Americans, who associate ketchup with cheap fast food, Japan doesn’t do that. Japan didn’t really EAT tomatoes until the Meiji Restoration. They never had the SPACE for huge sprawling tomato farms like America. So to them, ketchup was the only way to get tomatoes without paying an arm and a leg.

So you toss the pasta with the sausage, and the veggies, and the ketchup, and…this isn’t going to fit in the skillet. Remember how we doubled this recipe? It’s WAY too big for the skillet now. And it’s WAY too late to be making that realization. I quickly dump the skillet into the pot that previously held the noodles’ water, and stirred it there. And if you’ve never tried to stir 5 inches of pasta, meats, veggies and sauce together, I assure you: It’s a waste of time and effort. After 12 minutes of stirring, TRYING to make it look good (a length of time that essentially DOUBLED the cooking time), I ended up with this sorry mess.

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You know, when I'm not mid "flailing blindly through my first attempt on a recipe", this actually doesn't look nearly as bad as it felt at the time. 

 

I won’t lie, I also immediately modified the recipe. I gave like, a ½ tsp of Worcestershire sauce, since I know that’s another Western sauce used in Japan, to add a little more depth. Once I gave up on stirring, and just resolved to pry all the necessary components out of the pot with tongs, the meal didn’t actually look too bad. I topped by bowl with parmesan cheese and some chili-garlic paste, because I wanted to.

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Also, because Parmesan and hot sauce are the traditionally provided sides.
I'm not some cool edgy rebel, I'm just literally doing the normal thing.  

I have to admit: the sauce came out better than I thought.  I guess it’s that the sheer volume of noodles compared to the relatively light sauce spreads out the sweetness of the ketchup to a background note. Honestly, If I didn’t KNOW it was made with ketchup, I’d never have been able to guess. It was just warm pasta, filling and nice. Joe and I both had heaping seconds. I’d honestly recommend if you want to try something that’s foreign enough to be strange, but familiar enough to be accepted, that this dish is worth a try.

If you want to keep Jon from his Ramen and Lactose diet, consider supporting the site on Patreon! You can also help by just yelling “no, don’t do it, you’ve got better options now!” at him via social media. Facebook, Twitter, we got it all! Assuming you count “it all” as just Facebook and Twitter.

THURSDAY: I WANNA TALK ABOUT MUSHROOMS, DAMN IT. I’VE BEEN MEANING TO FOR A WHILE, AND I’VE DECIDED IT’S HAPPENING NOW.

MONDAY: EITHER NATE WILL BE BACK, AND MAKE A CRAB SALAD, OR I GOTTA COOK SOMETHING THIS WEEK. WE’LL KNOW MORE BY THURSDAY.

 

RECIPE

Spaghetti Napolitan (NON-Doubled Version)

Serves 2

 

Ingredients

7 oz spaghetti noodles

1 tbsp vegetable oil

½ onion, sliced

1 bell pepper, sliced into short segments

Roughly 5 mushrooms, sliced

2 sausages, ‘sliced’.

Roughly 5 tbsps ketchup (between ¼ cup and 1/3 cup)

½ tsp Worcestershire sauce

 

Preparation.

1.       Cook spaghetti according to the packaging, taking it out a little early, since it’s going to cook in the pan with the sauce. (So boil it for around 7 minutes, normally.)

2.       Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the vegetables in the order of your preference, texture-wise. (so I like well-cooked mushrooms, so I added them first, cooked for 3-4 minutes, then added the onions and peppers.) Cook until softened, around 5-8 minutes. Add the sausages, and toss to combine.

3.       Add the pasta, the ketchup, and the sauce, and reduce the heat to low. Toss thoroughly to combine, and remove from the heat. Serve with hot sauce and parmesan cheese, if desired.