You know spaghetti, right? That classic, comforting dish your parents might have whipped together for dinner sometimes (or a lot of times). Many of us love eating those yummy meatballs, the slippery noodles, the parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. In the United States, spaghetti is a widely loved meal. But Americans aren’t the only ones who can’t get enough of its saucy goodness.
Enter: The Philippines.
The Philippines, as you may know, is an archipelago in Southeast Asia made up of some 7,100 islands. Situated between Taiwan to the north and Indonesia to the south, the Philippines stretches about 1,150 miles along the western Pacific Ocean and is a hub of incredible biodiversity.
In the 1500s, the Philippines were colonized by the Spanish and underwent over 300 years of rule. Following the Spanish, the United States also attempted colonization in the late 1800s before finally granting the country independence in 1946.
In part thanks to this tumultuous history, and also to Filipino ingenuity, this country boasts a certain interesting recipe that has become quite the Filipino staple. If you were ever curious about Filipino cuisine, you have to check it out.
The surprising recipe
The one food Filipinos will mention first when talking about their cuisine is the well-known Filipino Spaghetti. Sounds pretty familiar, right?
Filipino Spaghetti does, of course, have many similarities with American spaghetti, but it differs in some very important details. It is just distinct enough that if you were to dig into a plate of it, you would notice the difference.
First, you start with your classic spaghetti noodles. Boil ‘em till they’re nice and soft, or al dente if you prefer. Then instead of meatballs, go ahead and toss in a handful of sliced up hot dogs. That’s right, hot dogs! Then you mix in some famous banana ketchup in place of tomato sauce and top it all off with a sprinkling of cheese to your liking. Delish!
Some recipes will vary, of course, calling for chopped veggies or ground beef added to the sauce. But in terms of basic ingredients, it’s pretty straight-forward. You can make yourself a steaming hot plate of Filipino Spaghetti in less than twenty minutes.
From afar, this plate resembles U.S.-style spaghetti in many ways. You’ve got the pile of noodles, the chunks of meat, the red sauce. Take a big bite of pasta, though, and you’ll find it has a sweet, tangy flavor that will probably be strange to an American palate.
But wait, wait, wait. Did you say banana ketchup?
Yes, we did! And to explain banana ketchup we must take a look back at the history of the Philippines.
When the U.S. arrived in the late 1800s, it brought along goods such as noodles, canned foods, and condiments like our beloved ketchup. It is thought that during this time spaghetti became a relatively common meal for Filipinos, and ketchup became a popular sauce. Before long, Filipinos were using it with all different kinds of foods.
In future years, however, access to American ketchup was not so readily available, and food sources were low. Unfortunately, tomatoes were one of the things that the Philippines simply didn’t have a lot of. To satisfy their ketchup cravings, they had to get a little creative.
Hence, banana ketchup. Food technologist Maria Orosa is credited with the creation of this sauce, which is essentially a mix of bananas and tomato paste. While it’s arguably her most famous innovation, Orosa concocted many substitutes for otherwise unavailable foods during World War II, and her “magic food” fed many starving people. It is safe to say that Orosa is a hero in the history of the Philippines.
Thanks to her, banana ketchup still exists and is eaten to this day. And it’s the magic ingredient that gives Filipino Spaghetti a unique sweetness that Filipinos love.
A dish full of memories
Many Filipinos describe banana ketchup and Filipino Spaghetti as foods that take them back to their childhood. They’re the kind of thing served at a kid’s birthday party, “a ‘kitschy’ condiment that pulls on the strings of nostalgia for many Filipinos” according to Nicole Ponseca, owner of Filipino restaurant Maharlika.
Ponseca believes that because of this, adults continue to eat the condiment and the famous dish. She says that “people really like to incorporate it into the rice” even though its traditional use is for Filipino Spaghetti.
So as you can see, this recipe isn’t going anywhere as far as Filipinos are concerned. It is even a menu item at the Filipino fast-food restaurant Jollibee, known as the “McDonald’s of the Philippines.” And if it’s anything like McDonald’s food in the U.S., it’s the kind of thing you’ll eat after a night out and regret the next morning, even if you know deep down that you loved it (and that you’ll go back for more next week).
If you happen to be planning a visit to the Philippines or would like to try your hand at a Filipino recipe, then this is the plate to try. It’s an iconic staple to the Filipino experience, and just similar enough to be familiar, yet different enough to be new. Who knows, you might find yourself eating banana ketchup with French fries, with chicken nuggets, maybe even with cheeseburgers!
The possibilities are endless. So grab a pot, start slicing those hot dogs, and get to cooking!