Filipino spaghetti is one of those dishes that people tend to either love or hate. People who grew up with the savory version of the dish often turn up their noses at the Filipino take, which is sweetened with banana ketchup, garnished with sliced hot dogs, and topped with cheese. It's a far cry from the original Italian version of the dish but is so beloved in the Philippines that it's served at parties and is even a popular dish at fast food restaurants like Jollibee and McDonald's. For many of us, it's a comfort food evoking childhood memories and the safety of home.
Western-style spaghetti was first introduced to the Philippines by Americans in the late 19th century and grew in popularity during the decades of the American occupation. For decades, Americans based in the Philippines and Pinoys alike ate the traditional tomato sauce-based dish. During World War II, however, there was a shortage of tomatoes as the fruit had to be imported to the country. This led to Filipino food technologist and war hero Maria Orosa developing a sauce made from bananas, as this fruit was widely grown in the Philippines. Banana ketchup soon became a popular — and sweeter — alternative to tomato ketchup and entered mass production in 1942.
So how did banana ketchup come to be used in spaghetti? While the origin is a bit speculative, Esquire Philippines shares an anecdotal story that may explain the evolution of the sweet Filipino spaghetti we know and love today. According to this story, while in the Philippines, American General Douglas MacArthur asked to be served spaghetti one day. Not having all the required ingredients on hand, his staff substituted banana ketchup for tomato ketchup and used sliced hot dogs as the meat. The legend goes on to say that MacArthur loved the dish and suggested that kids would especially love its sweetness, leading to it becoming a favorite dish at children's birthday parties. While we have no proof of MacArthur's involvement in the development of Filipino spaghetti, by the 1960s the dish was a fixture of Filipino cuisine. While tomatoes are in ready supply these days, and again serve as the basis for spaghetti sauce, Filipinos still sweeten it with banana ketchup or even sugar. Today, sweet Filipino spaghetti is a party favorite, and banana ketchup is a staple in Filipino kitchens all over the world.