We Filipinos are crazy about spaghetti — or more accurately, the sweet-style Pinoy spaghetti served in almost every children’s party and family get-together. Pinoy spaghetti is comforting and familiar, and it reminds us of fun times and the good old days when we didn’t really mind if the thing we were eating wasn’t authentic Italian cuisine. Such is our love for its sweet (and sometimes onion-y) sauce, that the fast food giant McDonald’s had to create a version of its own for the local market, which is why the Philippines is one of just two countries in the world that serves something called McSpaghetti.
This isn’t to say that the spaghetti at Jollibee is something to turn your nose up at — both do an equally good job at this Filipino favorite — but the best Pinoy spaghetti is arguably the one you make at home.
But what if you suddenly get a hankering for Pinoy spaghetti but you don’t want to go through the trouble of chopping up onions and thawing frozen hot dogs? The answer would be to reach for a foil pack (or a can, if you feel like splurging) of ready-to-eat Pinoy-style spaghetti sauce, scoop it onto a plate of freshly cooked spaghetti pasta, and enjoy. What could be simpler?
Well, judging by this week’s supermarket finds, things just got a whole lot simpler. And though we must admit that the thought of instant spaghetti seemed wrong on many levels at first, we were curious enough to give it a try.
Nissin Pasta Express Sweet Filipino Style (Php 9.95 per pouch)
Naturally, when it comes to finding a simpler way to make a noodle dish, Nissin Foods has to be there. After all, the company’s founder, the late Momofuku Ando, practically invented instant noodles, starting with his world-famous instant ramen.
For its foray into Pinoy spaghetti territory, Nissin created an unusual new kind of dry noodle block: the noodles are long and thick, with no zig-zag curls in between. And though they’re packaged as a circular disc, the noodles straighten out into the familiar spaghetti shape and al dente bite after the recommended 4-minute cooking time.
As for the sauce, inside the pouch are three smaller packets containing flavor powder, oil, and dried “meaty bits” (which you’re supposed to boil along with the noodles). The powder and oil are mixed together on a plate, where they meet up with the noodles and meaty bits once they’re cooked and drained. The result is a red-orange heap of pasta that looks convincing enough to be spaghetti (especially with the meaty bits, though the dish doesn’t look as red as the picture on the packaging).
At first bite, there really isn’t an overwhelming tomato sauce flavor, but more of a creamy cheese with a hint of meat (the bits are actually textured vegetable protein). True to its Pinoy peg, the sauce is sweet, with a slight tang and just the right amount of saltiness. On the minus side, its simple flavor profile makes it taste rather plain, like a spaghetti you bought at a cafeteria. But it is, like most Nissin instant noodle products, something you can probably build on. Add a few hot dog slices and grated cheese food on top, for example, and the illusion would be complete.
Lucky Me! Instant Curly Spaghetti (Php 16.40 per pouch)
You’ve got to hand it to the guys at Monde Nissin for the way they designed this product. To begin with, the first thing that crosses your mind when you tear open a pack of Lucky Me! Instant Spaghetti is this: these are not spaghetti noodles. Of course they’re not, because they’re curly spaghetti noodles — which is really just a fun and clever way of saying that it’s exactly the same noodle block you’ll find in an instant mami or pancit canton pouch. After all, why purchase another piece of factory equipment that makes a different noodle shape when the existing one will do, right?
The other item inside the pouch is a single, hefty foil pack filled with the “yummy red sauce”. The pack even feels chunky to the touch, as if it contained a promise of, say, ground beef or cubed carrots. But what we really like is the simplicity of this two-part system: you cook the noodles in boiling water (recommended cooking time is also 4 minutes), drain, and mix in the red sauce — it’s the same two steps of how to make quick homemade spaghetti in real life.
At first bite, Lucky Me! is surprisingly flavorful. The “pasta” has an al dente firmness and the sauce is robust and meaty (meat flavor and MSG are mentioned in the ingredients). The meaty bits, it turns out, are also small chunks of textured vegetable protein — an illusion of meat that, in this case, doesn’t disappoint.
There’s also an aroma to the sauce that’s a mixture of bayleaf and black pepper, and possibly some oregano and basil. It tasted (dare we say it) homemade. And by that we mean it reminded us of McCormick Italian Seasoning, a must-have spice in the ‘80s and ‘90s that mothers sprinkled liberally on pizzas and spaghetti sauces. Because of this flavor overload, Lucky Me! Curly Spaghetti takes longer to finish eating than the much simpler Nissin Pasta Express — which isn’t really a bad thing.
Nissin Pasta Express Creamy Carbonara (Php 11.25 per pouch)
Nissin Foods actually made a second variant of their instant spaghetti line, for those who prefer white sauce over red (or orange, technically). Inside the pouch is the same circular noodle block and the same trio of condiment packets, with the same TVP packet you have to boil along with the noodles before combining it with the other condiments. The difference is, the resulting pasta is even more convincing in appearance than Nissin’s red sauce version. There are even green bits of parsley shimmering in the creamy sauce. The sauce itself actually tastes more oily than creamy, but there’s a slightly smoky flavor to it and the meaty bits (which itself doesn’t taste too artificial). Overall, it is — surprisingly — not bad.
Lucky Me! Baked Mac Style Instant Macaroni (Php 18.00 per pouch)
Not to be outdone, Lucky Me! also made a second variant to its instant pasta line. Once again, Monde Nissin got dried instant noodles from an existing product (the most likely candidate is Instant Sopas) and repackaged it with a “yummy red sauce” to make its Instant Macaroni. To be fair, it’s not the same sauce as the Curly Spaghetti, but a meatier, creamier sauce that reminds us more of a store-bought mac and cheese (probably because of the orange color) than the baked macaroni you see in cafeterias. Though it’s not as spicy as Curly Spaghetti, the smooth chewiness of the macaroni coupled with the contrasting texture of the meaty bits gives this pasta a satisfying mouthfeel, which in turn creates the sensation of a more substantial meal.
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