Sweet Spaghetti Is A Quintessential Filipino Comfort Food

It's no secret that Filipino food has become popular in America and many other parts of the world. Thanks to restaurants like the food chain Jollibee, and world-famous chefs serving diverse populations across the globe, Filipino food is having a well-deserved moment. While traditional dishes, like lumpia and chicken adobo, are well-known, some of the county's fusion food is also making headlines — case in point, the country's famed sweet spaghetti. 

This sugary rendition of spaghetti and meatballs may sound a bit blasphemous for those purist Italian pasta eaters. But we implore you to taste before you judge, as this pasta dish has a superb balance of umami flavor, satisfying tanginess, and sweetness in each bite. 

Besides traditional wheat-based spaghetti noodles, this dish is nothing like your classic spaghetti and meatballs. The character of the tomato sauce is dramatically altered by including the sugary condiment, banana ketchup, and the meats found in the dish are typically ground beef or pork and sliced hot dogs. When ready, the whole thing is topped with shredded cheese that melts into the sauce.  

History of sweet spaghetti

The history of American colonization in the Philippines began in the late 19th century, and according to Hungry Huy, it was during that time that American military mess-hall foods like hot dogs and ketchup were popularized and folded into the country's own cuisine. Per Thrillist, ketchup was especially well-liked, and Filipinos used the condiment for all kinds of dishes. However, when WWII broke out, it was harder to find many foods, including tomatoes. So, to recreate the beloved condiment, banana ketchup, both sweeter and spicier than the condiment we're used to in the U.S., was invented. 

This fusion food was supposedly invented during World War II, and though the exact moment pasta was paired with banana ketchup is not known, a few origin rumors circulate. The leading theory, as Hungry Huy describes, is that Filipino spaghetti was invented at the request of General Douglas MacArthur. It's said that while in Japan, the general enjoyed spaghetti Neapolitan, a Japanese-style dish that uses ketchup as the base for the sauce. Upon relocating to the Philippines, the general continued to crave the sweet spaghetti, and his staff recreated it with the banana ketchup that, by then, was commonly available. 

Whether this story is true or not, today's craze over the pasta dish is definitely real. Sweet spaghetti is served as a staple at Filipino gatherings in the country and has garnered fans internationally thanks to the chains that dish out the pasta meal across continents.

Ingredients in sweet spaghetti

Sweet spaghetti is a straightforward dish, and it is made with a few main ingredients, along with lots of seasoning. It should be said that Filipino spaghetti doesn't forego tomato sauce but supplements it with banana ketchup. According to Hungry Huy, banana ketchup was invented by food scientist Maria Orosa when it became difficult to source tomatoes in the country. And since bananas grow abundantly in the Philippines, it serves as a perfect base for Filipinos' beloved condiment. It's used in all kinds of meals, but its role in spaghetti is perhaps the most well-known.

Another unique aspect of this dish is its inclusion of hot dog bits. Like Spam, Hungry Huy notes that processed meats, such as hot dogs, were introduced to the country during the American occupation. Filipinos were quick to include this meat in all kinds of dishes, including in this bolognese-esque sauce.

Pinch of Yum notes that cheese is also typically grated on top, an inclusion that this spaghetti dish would not be complete without. However, a processed cheese like Velveeta is usually used rather than the traditional parmesan. It should also be noted that fish sauce is also often a common ingredient added in for that special umami flavor and Filipino flair.

How sweet spaghetti is made and eaten

If you don't happen to live near a Jollibee and cannot fly straight to the Philippines to try some freshly made sweet spaghetti, have no fear. It's easy to make your very own right at home.

The first step, of course, starts off like any other pasta dish. Cook the noodles until al dente, and set them aside. Then, as per Pinch of Yum's recipe, the aromatics (onions and garlic) are sautéed until fragrant, and the ground pork is browned. Minced veggies (red peppers and carrots) and hot dogs are then added to the pan, and everything is simmered in water until cooked. The tomato sauce and ketchup products can then be added and simmered. Finally, the sauce should be ready. Kawaling Pinoy says that if you can't get your hands on banana ketchup, add sugar to regular ketchup for a workable substitute. 

To serve, the outlet recommends piling your fresh noodles on a plate, spooning the sauce on top, and then grating your shredded cheese of choice on top. The cheese will melt perfectly, and you will be captivated by this unique pasta dish at home or your local Filipino restaurant.