• Napolitan pasta is Japan's answer to spaghetti. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
For Brian Cheng, who hosts the "Eat Eat Eat" podcast, these Eastern remixes of pasta have become his version of comfort food.
By
Brian Cheng

17 Dec 2020 - 1:02 PM  UPDATED 14 Mar 2022 - 10:00 AM

For me, food is best when it's thoughtfully inventive, tells a story and is shared with loved ones (and is delicious, of course!). I was lucky enough to have grown up in a food-obsessed family and to have an amazing cook to call ‘Ma’. Inspired by Adam Liaw (Masterchef winner, Destination Flavour host and culinary deity) and his first cookbook, which merges family classics and new creations, I decided to document my favourites of Ma’s recipes and come up with a new dish with the same culinary DNA. Here’s the first.

Auntie Wikipedia tells me that macaroni soup was a traditional Italian dish, often used to cheaply cater for schools, hospitals and prisons. At some points, it was used to improve the health of poor miners and as a comfort to distressed mental patients – a dish with a nurturing pedigree. As with many dishes, it takes many forms across countries and cultures – a Filipino version called sopas is made with evaporated milk while it’s apparently served with chilli in Los Angeles. 

In Hong Kong, it’s served in cha chaan tengscafeteria-style, fast-service restaurants that emerged in the 1950s serving affordable, Hong Kong-style Western cuisine to a population that was craving a taste of the West. Tong sum funliterally translating to "pass heart noodle", is often eaten at breakfast or afternoon tea time. You often find it in a set meal with things like a spam and egg sandwich, Hong Kong-style French toast or yuenyeung, a mixture of coffee and tea (harnessing the ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ energy of each, says traditional Chinese medicine). 

My earliest and fondest food memory is sitting down to a bowl of Ma's tong sum fun on a wintery weekend afternoon. In hindsight, it's really a 'there's nothing in the fridge' meal made with pantry and freezer staples, but my seven-year-old self thought much more of it – nourishing, delicious and made with love. Cooking and eating this dish again after many years really evoked those nurturing feelings again, particularly seeing my three-year-old daughter enjoy it as much as I did.

My earliest and fondest food memory is sitting down to a bowl of Ma's tong sum fun … In hindsight, it's really a 'there's nothing in the fridge' meal made with pantry and freezer staples, but my seven-year-old self thought much more of it.

Another dish from the East that looks to the West is napolitan (also known as naporitan). Alongside tempura, katsu and Japanese curry, it comes under the umbrella of yoshoku, a style of Western-influenced cooking that originated in Japan in the late 1800s. Inspired by the military rations of the Allied Powers occupying Japan in World War II, napolitan was apparently created by Shigetada Irie, the chef at the Hotel New Grand in Yokohama. He originally served his pasta with canned tomato puree and tinned mushrooms, but over time, the dish would combine spaghetti, ketchup and Tabasco with a mix of ingredients you’d usually find on a supreme pizza. I’ve included elements from Ma’s tong sum fun and an egg on top for good measure.

Thanks to my parents for their cultural consultation and translation assistance. Even bigger thanks to them for migrating to Australia and working incredibly hard to give my sister and I an amazing childhood and every opportunity we could wish for. We love you!


通心粉 (Tong sum fun)

Ingredients

  • 6-8 cups water combined with 1 tsp chicken powder (or 6-8 cups of any stock)
  • 250 g macaroni
  • 2-3 frankfurters, sliced into rounds (feel free to use ham, Spam or any other delicious processed meat)
  • 4 handfuls of frozen corn

1. In a pot over high heat, bring water and chicken powder (or stock) to the boil.
2. Add macaroni and cook to your preference, as long as it's past al dente.
3. Add frankfurters and corn.
4. Allow the ingredients to come to a boil and cook for 1-2 minutes.
5. Serve in a shallow bowl with a big spoon while watching your favourite trashy TV show.

ナポリタン (Napolitan or naporitan)

Ingredients

  • 250 g macaroni
  • 2-3 tbsp oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 onion, cut into medium dice
  • 1 capsicum, cut into medium dice
  • 1 handful of button mushrooms, cut into medium dice
  • 2-3 frankfurters, sliced into hemispheres
  • 6-8 tbsp tomato sauce
  • 1-2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs (or fried/poached/scrambled eggs as you like – it’s almost a breakfast pasta, come to think of it)
  • 4 grated handfuls of whatever cheese is in the fridge
  • Black pepper
  • Tabasco sauce

1. In a pot over high heat, bring water to the boil. Add macaroni and cook pasta until al dente and set aside.
2. In a pan over medium heat, saute garlic, onion and capsicum in oil for 3-4 minutes until softened.
3. Add mushrooms and frankfurters and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.
4. Add cooked pasta, tomato sauce and soy sauce and mix well - add more of either to taste. (The sauce should coat the macaroni - add a little pasta water to loosen if required.)  
5. Divide into bowls and top with grated egg, cheese, black pepper and Tabasco. A spoon or spork should do the job – get a bit of everything in each bite.  Eat enough to necessitate feeling like a nap afterwards. 

 

This piece was originally submitted for New Voices On Food, a project dedicated to promoting diverse voices on food.

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