“Seriously, why is this Filipino spaghetti so sweet?” My sons incredulously asked me this question as we sat at a favorite Manila restaurant, during our Asia trip a few weeks ago. We were visiting the home country and a must-do was ordering familiar items on the menu. A quick Philippine history lesson was in order I decided, for my sons who grew up in America. Our family meal discussions often end up in lively discourses over how Filipino food should be cooked. Today was one of those days.
Sweetness in Filipino food is to be expected at all times, I have told my family again and again. “Since sugar has been a major Philippine export since the 19th century (in the Philippines), the use of sugar – brown or refined—is widespread. The sweets often seen on Philippine tables, however are predominantly Spanish, “ explained the late Professor Doreen G. Fernandez in her book “Tikim”.
A look back at Philippine history shows how nearly half a century of the American influence brought to Filipino tables burgers, pasta, meatloaf and so many other “western” favorites. Today, it is not unusual to find a pasta dish on the Filipino menu.
“ In the mid-twentieth century, American influence entered the scene in the form of a questionable devotion to convenience foods, a vague mission to increase the healthfulness of Filipino food, and a passion for 1950s-era Betty Crocker-style desserts. At the culinary crossroads of Chinese, Spanish and American foods, the Filipinos took what they liked and made it their own,” explained Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan in the revised version of “Memories of Philippine Kitchens” cookbook.
I learned how to cook spaghetti early on, in my pre-teen years from my cousin, Mell Besa Chung. Over the years, I’ve tweaked my Filipino spaghetti recipe. In my American kitchen, I make it the way we like it. It has a rich, creamy meat sauce which is sweet. It has globules of pan-seared ground meat embedded in the sauce. To contrast the sweetness, there is a veil of saltiness, from the grated cheese, all over it. The thick noodles are coated lavishly with meat sauce, it’s hard to find a pasta corner with nothing on it. But it is definitely good. It fills you up. It is sublime. It is sweet Filipino spaghetti, one of the best in the world.
Sweet Filipino Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
- 16 ounces/ 1 lb or 454 gm spaghetti pasta
- 1 pound ground beef
- 4 Tablespoons vegetable oil or extra virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 whole onion chopped
- 2 8 ounce cans tomato sauce
- 1 6 ounce can tomato paste
- 1/3 cup (Filipino brands, from Asian groceries) banana catsup
- 1 10 3/4 ounce can cream of mushroom soup
- 1 cup beef broth
- 4 to 5 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper powder
- 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
- 1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
- Cook spaghetti pasta in a large stock pot of boiling water with a pinch of salt. Follow package directions and cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta when cooked and set aside.
- In a large skillet, over medium high heat, add the cooking oil. Saute the garlic and onions.
- Add the ground beef. Sprinkle the Worcestershire sauce over the beef. Cook the beef for 10 minutes or till the pink meat turns to brown.
- Add the tomato sauce, tomato paste and banana catsup to the meat. Blend well.
- In a separate small bowl, blend the cream of mushroom soup with the beef broth. Mix well till there are no lumps. When it is smooth, add this to the tomato sauce and beef mixture in the skillet.
- By then the sauce would have boiled. Lower heat to a slow simmer. Cook for 35 to 40 minutes over a low heat. Stir occasionally so the meat doesn’t stick to the bottom. Season with salt and pepper.
- Lastly, add the sugar. Turn off the heat. Do not cook the spaghetti sauce with sugar or you might burn the sauce.
- Arrange the pasta on a large platter. Add a few tablespoons of the sauce on the pasta, making sure to coat the spaghetti with the sauce. Pour the rest of the spaghetti sauce over the pasta. Sprinkle the top with grated cheese. Serve warm.
- COOK'S COMMENTS: Sometimes, Filipino spaghetti meat sauce uses a combination of half ground beef and half ground pork.
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