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The Vibrant History of the Filipino-Style Spaghetti

The shortage of tomatoes in the 1940s led to the serendipitous invention of the banana ketchup!

Some would jokingly say a Filipino gathering or celebration is not considered a party if there is no lumpiang shanghai.

It might be true to some extent, especially with how this food is favored by children, but we tend to forget that there is actually a more usual food we serve at parties: spaghetti!

But not just any spaghetti, it has to be Filipino style spaghetti— sweet, full of hotdogs, ground pork, and lots and lots of cheese. (Read: Putting a party together? We gathered the best advice from expert event planners!)

This January 4, National Spaghetti Day, let’s dive into the history of this well-loved spin on the Italian dish that many have even grown up with. We’ll also be linking a recipe for Filipino-style spaghetti which you can replicate at home!

Born During World War II

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During his stay in Japan, General Douglas MacArthur (left) had the Spaghetti Neapolitan (Naporitan) which uses a tomato-based use, but a Filipino staff was said to have adjusted the taste of the sauce. (Photos from Wikipedia and TabiEats)

When the Philippines was colonized by the United States of America, they introduced not only their culture but also some of the western food they were used to eating. And one of these is the spaghetti— slightly more on the tangy, sour side. (Read: Carbonara Recipes: Three ways to spice up an Italian classic)

Though there was no clear-cut date or year when the Filipino-style spaghetti was born, it is believed to be towards the end of the Second World War. During his stay in Japan, General Douglas MacArthur had the Spaghetti Neapolitan (Naporitan) which uses a tomato-based use, but a Filipino staff was said to have adjusted the taste of the sauce.

The staff brought home the “modified” recipe for his fellow Filipinos, thus, the Filipino-style spaghetti was born.

Filipino-Style Spaghetti

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In 1942, in the midst of World War II, Francisco produced banana catsup in commercial quantities and named it Mafran. (Photos from FilipiKnow and RafDesquitado / Twitter)

During World War II, the Philippines reportedly ran out of tomatoes (which were still imported from the US)— the key ingredient in spaghetti. This meant there was also no ketchup that can be used to cook spaghetti. That’s why Filipino cooks and chefs had to get creative, eventually using the banana ketchup invented by Filipino scientist María Orosa. (Read: Get to know the woman behind your favorite banana ketchup!)

One day, when General MacArthur was craving Spaghetti Neapolitan, his cook only used the banana ketchup and added chopped hotdogs in place of meatballs. This went on for quite a while as the shortage of tomatoes took a long period of time, and banana ketchup has become the popular substitute.

By the year 1942, the first-ever mass-produced banana ketchup, Mafran, was born. Started by Magdalo V. Francisco, the Mafran banana ketchup is now one of the staple condiments in Filipino households and the main ingredient in Filipino-style spaghetti. (Read: 3 Tips to Extend Shelf Life of Fruits and Vegetables)

As years went by, Filipinos have also experimented with their versions of the pasta dish—adding spices, ground meat, hotdog, and anything else they think goes well with it.

You can try cooking Filipino-style spaghetti using this recipe.

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