Spaghetti Napolitan is a uniquely Japanese dish of spaghetti, ham, onion, green pepper, mushrooms and…ketchup. I had always thought it was kid food, but recently learned that it was invented by a chef at a hotel in Yokohama for the staff of the GHQ during the occupation. Authentic and excellent Italian food is widely available now, but at that time foreign food was largely unknown and Napolitan was considered to be the height of fashion. (To be fair, I didn’t know you could put anything other than meatballs and tomato sauce on spaghetti until I went to Europe, and where I come from, Jello with grated carrot in it was considered to be “salad”. But I digress.)
There’s a very silly TV show on every Sunday afternoon where random young women are asked to prepare a particular dish. Last week it was spaghetti Napolitan. The women chosen are always the same type: pretty, heavily made-up and stupid. They are offered all the standard ingredients required for some standard dish along with some red herrings. This time, one of them added beef tongue and another used udon noodles instead of spaghetti.
After that fiasco, we cut to the studio where a qualified chef cooks the dish properly. This chef used ketchup, of course, and made it in a wok, stirring it with chopsticks.
I don’t have issues with fusion cooking. In fact, one of the best curries I ever tasted was seasoned with habanera sauce, not a combination I would have thought of. And I always rub whole chickens with soy sauce when I roast them—it makes the skin nice and brown and gives the gravy a lovely umami. But when the chef reached for the ketchup bottle, I could hear a thousand Italian grannies turning over in their graves.
Some other unlikely combinations also put my teeth on edge. Convenience store sandwiches are always slathered in mayonnaise that often has wasabi in it. Canned corn turns up in a lot of odd places. Green tea gets mixed into anything that will stand still—traditional sweets, of course, but also ice cream, cake, cookies, candy, Kit Kats. I guess I’m a bit of a traditionalist, but I think green tea belongs in a teacup. Anywhere else is just…not my cup of tea. (Sorry.)
Some things, I believe, are not meant to be fused.