Foreign Foods in Japan – Chanpon (ちゃんぽん)

Students. Hungry and poor. The history of higher education is irrevocably intertwined with the history of starving students and the cooks who figure out innovative ways to feed them healthful, nutritious foods for very little money. Chanpon is one of those perfect student meals, and now, a great regional dish from Nagasaki, Japan that was originally created for Chinese students visiting Dejima Island in the area.

As with many beloved foreign foods in Japan, chanpon was developed during the Meiji Period (1868-1912). During this era, Japan had opened its borders to the world, sharing knowledge and information, along with culture and food. Students from China would visit Nagasaki, a port city, and head to a local Chinese restaurant called Shikairo. According to the restaurant, the dish was based on a Fujian specialty called tonniishiimen. Korean jjamppong is very similar!

Chanpon is made with pork meat, seafood pieces, and seasonal vegetables, served in a bone broth with noodles. The meat, seafood, and vegetables are sautéed in lard, and the soup base is made using pig bones and whole chickens. The meat, seafood, and vegetables are fried first, then the broth is added directly to the pot. Finally, the thick, chewy noodles are added to the broth mixture and everything is cooked together to seal in the flavor.

Chanpon has become such a popular dish in Japan that different regions have created their own versions. In Shimane and Hyogo Prefectures, a version called ankake chanpon is made using a thick soy sauce soup base while in Akita Prefecture, the soup base is made with miso broth.

Have you ever tried chanpon? Ready to cook packages are available in most Japanese grocery stores in the US, so we hope you decide to make it one day! Be sure to share your story with us in the comments below.

Foreign Foods in Japan – Supagetti Naporitan

Japanese people love good food. Traditional, seasonal, festive and of course, foreign foods!

One of the most universally loved foods is noodles, and in Japan, Italian spaghetti has been adapted to Japanese taste in a dish called Supagetti, or Spaghetti, Naporitan. Legend has it that the dish was invented in August of 1945, by Shigetada Irie, the head chef at the Hotel New Grand in Yokohama. On the 30th of that month, General Douglas MacArthur, leader of the Allied Forces during World War II, established his headquarters at the hotel, and in an effort to accommodate the new guests, Chef Irie developed a pasta dish inspired by the classical Italian pasta napolitana and the American spaghetti with ketchup that was served to military men.

Needless to say, the new dish was a hit, and has become a staple dish wherever yoshuku, or “Japanized Western food”, is served. Today Supagetti Naporitan is made with cooked durum wheat-based spaghetti, onions, bell peppers, sausage, ketchup, salt and grated parmesan cheese. The vegetables and sausage are stir-fried in oil, to which the spaghetti and ketchup are added, with all of the ingredients getting finished in a quick pan sauté. The dish is garnished with parsley and grated parmesan cheese and served hot.

The original recipe developed by Chef Irie, who was classically trained in French and Italian cuisines, used canned pureed tomatoes instead of ketchup, as well as garlic, mushrooms and bacon. Supagetti Naporitan is at heart an international dish. The pastas favored in the Naples region of Italy, where San Marzano tomatoes famous for their sweet acidity grow, is often considered the birthplace of simple spaghetti with tomato sauce and cheese. Popularized in the United States following multiple waves of Italian immigration which took place the 18th century, pasta napolitana became a staple in American households. World War II causes widespread scarcity, and instead of fresh, high-quality tomatoes, many families substituted ketchup for the more traditional tomato sauce. Add to this mix Japanese influences – sausages, pan-frying and vegetables – and you have a multi-cuisine but oh-so-comforting dish. Full of umami from the tomatoes and cheese, protein and vegetables, and chewy noodles familiar to the Japanese palette, this dish was destined to become a staple in Japanese cuisine, just like in Italian and American cuisines.

Today, Supagetti Naporitan is available in local mom-and-pop coffee shops throughout Japan, as well as at yoshoku restaurants and chain restaurants. Since it is such a simple dish, it is most often eaten for weekday lunch or dinner and can quickly be made at home.

Have you tried Supagetti Naporitan? Be sure to share your story with us in the comments below!