• Thursday , 20 September 2018
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The Spaghetti Letters – why is there evaporated milk in my sauce?

The Spaghetti Letters – why is there evaporated milk in my sauce?

I want my own version of Filipino Spaghetti.  A mix of tart and sweet, with sliced up hotdogs, a thick tomato sauce and ketchup, and just a dash of milk to thin the sauce.  A friend asked why I didn’t stick to an authentic recipe that uses evaporated milk or condensed milk and banana ketchup.  Maybe I’m adulting. My palate has changed and wants to accommodate both the Filipino Spaghetti I had when i was a child and my favorite tart Italian-American Sauce here in the USA.

My curiosity behind the red noodle delight made me reach out to Nastasha Ali of Exploring Filipino Kitchens.  Nastasha is a food writer, recipe developer and food tour guide based in Toronto.  She also is an avid Filipino Food history and cookbook enthusiast.  Episodes on her Filipino Food audio show can be found here https://www.exploringfilipinokitchens.com/episodes/

Here is my letter to Nastasha and her response below:

Hi Nastasha,

How are you? I’ve been thinking about the origins of Filipino Spaghetti.  It is such an odd dish that has strayed far away from it’s Italian version.  The thick tomato meat sauce is closer to American Spaghetti but it’s said that Filipino Spaghetti was patterned after Japanese Spaghetti Napolitan.

Of course I think, in true Pinoy fashion, we mixed all the spaghetti sauce recipes from different countries and turned it into our own Filipino Spaghetti. Even then, there isn’t one true recipe in the Philippines since some use banana ketchup when others don’t, and some even add evaporated milk or condensed milk!

Here are some thoughts/notes I gathered to try and trace the evolution of Filipino Spaghetti:

  • The Japanese and Filipino recipes both use tomato ketchup.
  • The Japanese version (Spaghetti Napolitan) was created by chef Shigetada Irie.  He was inspired by US military food rations which was spaghetti mixed with tomato ketchup (Wikipedia)
  • Spaghetti Napolitan (Japan) has no meat in it
  • Neopolitan Ragu (Naples, Italy) is a tomato based sauce with cut slices of beef, usually served over pasta
  • Banana Ketchup – it is said that this red colored banana sauce concoction began to replace the tomato based spaghetti sauce in World War II due to the lack of tomatoes during the war.
  • Maria Oroso, the inventor of Banana Ketchup passed away in 1945 at 52 years old.  I wonder if there was enough time to market the product during WWII (1941-1945)?  It does make sense for banana ketchup to gradually gain popularity in the years after the war since it is sweeter, less tangy/tart, and more versatile.

Most of my info was gathered from The Origin of Filipino Spaghetti here

Some recipes use evaporated milk or condensed milk in the spaghetti sauce.

I’m shocked about the use of evaporated milk or condensed milk.  I can’t even begin to trace when this odd (but delicious) ingredient was added in the sauce. Maybe it’s the lack of fresh cream in the Philippines?

The Possible Evolution of Filipino Spaghetti

Neopolitan/Italian Ragu = America = WWII US military food rations = Japanese Napolitan = Philippines = American Spaghetti Meat Sauce = Banana Ketchup = Sugar and Hotdogs = Evaporated Milk or Condensed Milk just because whoever he/she is in our Filipino Food History decided it was a good idea.

Filipino-Spaghetti - a new recipe that's a delicious mix of sweet and tart flavors

Here are my questions for you:

  1. What is your memory of Filipino Spaghetti?
  2. What are your thoughts or theories about the history of the dish?
  3. What do you think about the use of evaporated milk?
  4. Tomato Ketchup vs Banana Ketchup, what would you prefer and why?
  5. How would you modify the recipe to cater to a western palate while still staying true to it’s Filipino origin?

Thanks for your time and hope to meet you soon!

Best,

Vanessa

Filipino-Spaghetti - a new recipe that's a delicious mix of sweet and tart flavors

Hi Vanessa,

I’m sorry for the delay with this. Last week became a bit busier than I expected! Please find some thoughts below 🙂

1. What is your memory of Filipino Spaghetti?

– I’ve always loved our sweet, Filipino-style spaghetti. It’s what I grew up with! From the massive portions my grandma would make for her 10 children, plus their spouses and kids whenever we gathered at their house…to the individual orders of Jollibee spaghetti with “quick melt” cheese that I’d try to fit into my one-hour lunch break in high school, when we were finally allowed to leave campus…to figuring out how I could re-work that sweetness that I loved and craved so much, with a homemade tomato sauce base using fresh tomatoes at the peak of summer, here in Canada.

2. What are your thoughts or theories about the history of the dish?

– On my “Exploring Filipino Kitchens” podcast, I interviewed food historian Felice Sta. Maria about how some of our favourite dishes were cooked originally. We talked about Filipino-style spaghetti here: https://www.exploringfilipinokitchens.com/recording-filipino-food-history-episode-transcript/#spaghetti
In a nutshell, Felice argues that the sweetness of our spaghetti sauce evolved over time, thanks to the cost of sugar which began to steadily decrease from the 1960s onwards. As well, our preference for a “meaty” sauce meant that as ground pork and beef became more expensive, this desire for a “meaty” sauce was filled in with other processed meats, such as hotdogs and even luncheon meat.
(My apologies Vanessa, I now remember that we talked about this specific part regarding spaghetti during the interview!)

3. What do you think about the use of evaporated milk?

– It’s a bit odd! I myself have never put evaporated milk in my spaghetti. Although, because my grandma liked making a lighter, creamier sauce for her mac and cheese, which also had ground beef in it…I believe she may have used “evap sa lata” (canned evaporated milk) in her version!

4. Tomato Ketchup vs Banana Ketchup, what would you prefer and why?

– Oh, that’s a tough one. I like tomato ketchup better overall (I’ve taken a liking to Heinz) but banana ketchup will always have a place on my table! I’ve even tried to make a homemade batch once, following Marvin Gapultos’ recipe in the “Adobo Road Cookbook”. I finished that batch in a week and should really make it again. 🙂

5. How would you modify the recipe to cater to a western palate while still staying true to it’s Filipino origin?

– From the base tomato sauce recipe that I use from Mark Bittman’s “How To Cook Everything” book, I add half a cup of honey to the sauce. That satisfies my sweet tooth enough, while also keeping a balance of sweet and tangy.

I hope this helps!

Thanks so much, Vanessa!

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Filipino Spaghetti – a new recipe that’s a delicious mix of sweet and tart flavors

Filipino Spaghetti - a new recipe that's a delicious mix of sweet and tart flavors

A mix of tart and sweet, with sliced up hotdogs, a thick tomato sauce and ketchup, and just a dash of milk to thin the sauce.

  • Author: AmusingMaria
  • Prep Time: 15
  • Cook Time: 30
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: 4
  • Category: Filipino Food
  • Cuisine: Filipino Food

Ingredients

2 tbsps oil
1/2 cup finely chopped Onions
1 1/2 minced Garlic
6 Hotdogs sliced diagonally
1 lb Ground Pork
1 1/2 cup Tomato Sauce
1 1/2 cup Tomato Ketchup
1/4 cup Milk or Evaporated Milk
1-2 tsps Sugar according to taste
Grated Cheese (topping)

Instructions

Add oil on low medium heat
Add hotdogs and fry for 3 minutes then set aside
Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute
Add onions and cook until translucent and tender
Add ground pork and cook until brown
Add tomato sauce, tomato ketchup, and evaporated milk
Mix sauce and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes
Add hotdogs and simmer for 5 minutes
Serve sauce over spaghetti noodles and top with grated cheese

Notes

The flavor of an original Filipino Spaghetti Sauce is sweet, creamy, and not tangy or tart.  Most recipes use evaporated milk or condensed and grated cheese in the sauce.  Banana Ketchup is used mostly to take out the tangy component of the tomato sauce/ketchup. My version/recipe has tomato ketchup and sauce to create a mix of tart and sweet flavors.  Replace tomato ketchup with Banana ketchup to reduce the tangy/tart flavor.

Keywords: Filipino Spaghetti

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