Spaghetti Napolitan (Japanese Ketchup Pasta) is one of the popular yōshoku (Western-style food) dishes. The uniqueness of this pasta is the sauce that is based on ketchup/tomato sauce (Aussie), making the colour of the pasta almost red. It is a simple pasta dish but very tasty.
The name of the dish sounds like the Italian pasta dish, Spaghetti Napolitana but the sauce is quite different. While the sauce of the Italian pasta is made with crushed/pureed tomato and herbs, the Japanese Napolitan sauce uses ketchup/tomato sauce.
Apparently, the chef at Hotel New Grand in Yokohama invented the dish soon after WWII. Hotel New Grand was used as accommodation by American troops during the Occupation of Japan, for 7 years from 1945.
The chef watched how the American soldiers were eating pasta by simply adding ketchup to it and nothing else. He thought it was too plain as a dish so he added all the ingredients to the pasta that resembles today’s Spaghetti Napolitan. The name of the dish came from the Italian dish, Spaghetti Napolitana due to its similarity.
Spaghetti Napolitan is widespread among young and old, so much so that if people hear the word ‘Napolitan’ (ナポリタン), everyone knows that it is a Japanese Ketchup Pasta.
Nostalgic Spaghetti Napolitan
The original Spaghetti Napolitan served at restaurants was more authentic than what you are served at yōshoku restaurants in Japan these days.
To start with, the pasta was cooked the day before and to beyond al-dente, i.e. fully cooked to almost like soft noodles. Oil was sprinkled to prevent the pasta from drying up and kept in the fridge overnight. Then when an order came through, the pasta was reheated by stir-frying it with the vegetables, ham and sauce.
Basically, the method of cooking Spaghetti Napolitan at the time was conceptually similar to the noodle soups served at stand-and-eat noodle shops. Pre-cooked noodles are ready; toppings and broth are ready; warm up the noodles in boiling water; drain and transfer to a serving bowl; add the soup and toppings.
Some people apparently still prefer overcooked pasta to bring back memories of the good old days.
When my children were still little, I sometimes cooked Spaghetti Napolitan. I think that the pasta was close to the nostalgic version. My son still remembers that my pasta was beyond al dente and not saucy. I have improved my Neapolitan since then and I think my Napolitan is quite good.
What’s in my Spaghetti Napolitan
The ingredients are grouped into two parts – Pasta ingredients and Neapolitan sauce.
The list of pasta ingredients is pretty much the same among most of the Napolitan recipes:
- Pasta – Spaghetti (no.5, standard spaghetti) or Spaghettoni (no.7) is the best.
- Oil to sauté vegetables and protein.
- Crushed Garlic
- Onion, sliced to 1cm wide strips
- Green capsicum, thinly sliced
- Sliced button mushrooms (I used Swiss mushrooms in the photo above)
- Ham, sliced into strips
- Butter – to add flavour and richness to the dish.
Instead of ham, you can use bacon or sliced sausages (not raw). If you omit ham/bacon/sausage, you can make it vegetarian.
- Tomato sauce (Aussie) or ketchup
- Tomato paste
- Worcestershire sauce
How to make it
Cooking Napolitan is very easy and fast. In fact, cooking the pasta takes the longest time.
- Mix sauce ingredients.
- Cook pasta.
- Sauté garlic and onion, then add the rest of ingredients and sauté.
- Add sauce and mix with other ingredients.
- Mix the pasta.
- Add butter and toss the pasta.
In step 4 above, I push the sautéed ingredients to one side and add the sauce so that the sauce cooks by itself (see the top left photo above). By doing this, you can reduce the sharp acidity of the ketchup/tomato sauce. Then mix with the sautéed ingredients.
Although my recipe instructions for cooking pasta and other ingredients are synchronous processes, you can start cooking the vegetables and get the Napolitan sauce ready while cooking the pasta. Then you can get Spaghetti Napolitan ready in one minute after the pasta is ready!
Toppings for Napolitan
As far as I remember, Spaghetti Napolitan has always been served with a bottle of Tabasco and grated parmesan cheese.
Given that the origin of this dish is associated with the US, I can easily understand the inclusion of Tabasco as a topping. I think that tomato flavour goes very well with Tabasco. By adding a few dashes of Tabasco to the dish, the sweetness of the sauce that comes from tomato ketchup becomes somewhat milder.
I read in an article that there are rules as to what kind of pasta dishes should have cheese added and what kind shouldn’t. I don’t know if Japanese Ketchup Pasta should or shouldn’t have cheese by Italian standard. Well, this dish does not exist in Italy anyway so let’s sprinkle on some cheese!
Spaghetti Napolitan (Japanese Ketchup Pasta) can be a great bento food as it reheats well. It is also suitable as a side dish to be packed in a bento box. Imagine the colour!
Spaghetti Napolitan is one of the popular yōshoku (Western food) dishes. The uniqueness of this pasta is the sauce, which is based on ketchup/tomato sauce (Aussie), making the colour of the pasta almost red. It is a simple pasta dish but very tasty.
Omit the protein to make it vegetarian!
Cook Time = time to cook my Spaghetti (n.7) + 1 minute to mix pasta with the sauce. This is because I started making the sauce while cooking pasta.
Don't forget to see the section 'MEAL IDEAS' below the recipe card! It gives you a list of dishes that I have already posted and this recipe that can make up a complete meal. I hope it is of help to you.
- 100g / 3.5oz pasta (dried, note 1)
- ½ tbsp oil (note 2)
- 1 clove garlic crushed
- 60g / 2.1oz onion sliced into 1cm / ⅜" wide pieces
- 40g / 1.4oz green capsicum thinly sliced (note 3)
- 20g / 0.7oz mushrooms thinly sliced
- 40g / 1.4oz ham sliced into 1cm wide strips (note 4)
- 1 tsp butter
- 2 tbsp ketchup (= tomato sauce for Aussie)
- 1 tsp tomato paste
- ¼ tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp water
- Grated parmesan cheese
Cook pasta in a big pot of boiling water per packet instructions (al dente).
Reserve 1 tablespoon of water from the pot, then drain the pasta.
Put all the Sauce ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
Heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add garlic and onion, sauté for about 1½-2 minutes until the onion pieces become transparent.
Add capsicum, mushrooms and ham to the pan and sauté 1 minute.
Push the ingredients to one side and put the Sauce in the cleared area. The sauce should starts bubbling immediately.
Stir the sauce for 30 seconds (note 5), then mix the ingredients and the sauce together.
Add the pasta and a tablespoon of the pasta water to the pan. Mix quickly.
Add butter to the pan and toss several times until the butter melts and mixes with the pasta, then turn the heat off.
Transfer the pasta to a serving plate with grated parmesan cheese and a bottle of tabasco.
1. I used Barilla brand spaghetti no.7, which is called spaghettoni. Spaghettoni is thicker than standard spaghetti (no.5). For today’s pasta dish, I think either spaghetti or spaghettoni are best suited.
2. Unlike standard pasta dish, I didn’t use olive oil because I wanted the pasta just like how it was made in Japan when I was in Japan. But if you wish, use olive oil instead.
3. I sliced the capsicum thinly because in Australia. capsicum is quite large and the flesh is very thick. I halved the capsicum vertically, then sliced the half perpendicular to the first cut.
If your capsicum is like Japanese capsicum, which is about 5-6cm / 2-2⅜" long with very thin and soft flesh, you should slice it to 7mm / ¼" wide strips.
4. Instead of ham, you can use bacon strips or thinly sliced sausages (not the raw meat sausages).
5. This is to remove the acidity of the tomato sauce/ketchup.
6. Nutrition per serving, not including toppings.
serving: 326g calories: 616kcal fat: 15g (23%) saturated fat: 3.6g (18%) trans fat: 0.2g polyunsaturated fat: 2.3g monounsaturated fat: 7g cholesterol: 36mg (12%) sodium: 763mg (32%) potassium: 878mg (25%) carbohydrates: 98g (33%) dietary fibre: 5.6g (22%) sugar: 17g protein: 25g vitamin a: 19% vitamin c: 178% calcium: 4.7% iron: 27%