Red Sauce America - Food, Culture, and Italian American Experience

Japanese Convenience Store “Spaghetti Napolitan”

By on Tuesday, November 16th, 2021 at 8:28 am | 1,171 views

Convenience stores like 7/11, Lawson, and FamilyMart sell a variety of pre-made foods and bento boxes. These are commonly eaten at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and are especially popular for single people or as a meal during work hours. One common dish commonly available is a Japanese-style spaghetti.

Japanese spaghetti is part of the cuisine known as yoshoku, a type of cooking that reimagines western dishes such as hamburgers, pronounced “hambagu.” Spaghetti served with red tomato sauce is a great example of the yoshoku cuisine, derivative of Italian Neapolitan spaghetti, as introduced by Americans.

American soldiers were stationed in Japan following the Japanese surrender after World War II. Military officers were housed in the New Grand Hotel of Yokohama. The hotel’s head chef, Shigetada Irie, invented the recipe for Spaghetti Napolitan using a tomato sauce. It was a dish designed to appeal to the American soldiers in the hotel.

By the 1950s, other Japanese restaurants began copying Irie’s dish. In the immediate post-war years, Japan endured food shortages, and the original recipe was often changed to rely on ketchup, making the overall dish a bit sweeter. Since then, the sweet red sauce has become a popular comfort and convenience food.

Variations of the dish, sometimes known as ketchup spaghetti, migrated around the Pacific to places like South Korea and Hong Kong. In the 1980s, as Korean immigrants settled in the United States, they brought with them a tradition of spaghetti ketchup recipes, especially in the greater Atlanta area.

Meanwhile, back in Japan, the Lawson chain continues innovating. Various Italian-American variations of dishes are available like “fried lasagna bolognaise.” The chain also holds the world record for longest pasta noodle set on October 20, 2010, according to the Guinness World Records. The noodle stretched 3,776 meters and was cooked whole.