The phrase “Japanese noodles” brings to mind so many things: soba, udon, ramen, shirataki, somen – all with their variety of width, length and material. Some are eaten dipped in various sauces, while others are served swimming in broth. Japanese noodles are included in stews and with combinations of ingredients as well. They are eaten hot or cold, at any time of day, usually slurped out of the bowl with chopsticks. They are sometimes a meal, other times a snack. What rarely comes to mind when Japanese noodles are mentioned is Japanese spaghetti.
The ability to imitate and re-engineer Western culture has been a strong force in contemporary Japanese life. Most famously, the original Toyota car and engine were copied from an American Chrysler Airflow. Applying Japanese refinement to foreign culture has produced things like amazing whiskeys, great jazz and, some would say, the best jeans on the planet. Now, pasta has gone big-time. Japanese spaghetti, as served in the few outlets of Spajiro, is perfectly Japanese and always interesting. There are four good Spajiro restaurants in Tokyo, all decorated differently and offering a different experience. The Roppongi Spajiro is open from lunchtime until 8 a.m. the next morning. Most surely, it’s a great place to fill your stomach before or after a night of drinking, or simply after taking in the sights around town.
Most of the spaghetti on offer is called wafu, or Japanese-style Western food. Spaghetti with mentaiko (spicy cod roe) and mayonnaise ups the ante on salty and umami at the same time, the mayo bringing out new flavors in the roe. Another spaghetti introduces plain mentaiko to pungent natto (fermented soybeans), which presents a mix of textures and aromatic tastes. The wafu direction mixes stewed clams with squid, or if one wants to stay with natto, it is also served with bacon and ume, salty-sweet pickled plums over spaghetti. A perennial favorite is spaghetti with shimeji mushrooms and natto with nori (dried seaweed) flaked on top. The base sauce for most of the wafu spaghettis is fragrant olive oil, studded with caramelized garlic. Most often, julienned nori tops off the dish.
Also included in the wafu selection is miso and soy sauce spaghetti. One dish comes topped with aromatic ground sausage and vegetables with miso flavor, another with shrimp and garlic. The crab and shimeji mushrooms or salmon with soy sauce butter are soy-tinged.
There is “Western” spaghetti as well: tomato with eggplant and bacon, eggplant with gobo (burdock), shrimp arabiata [sic], vongole, various cream sauces and something called “white soup” pasta with various kinds of seafood. The most recognizable “Western” dishes contain a soupy tomato base, with ingredients such as mozzarella and eggplant dusted with basil. The most expensive spaghetti on the menu (around $15) is whole crab bouillabaisse spaghetti in a tomato sauce.
There are several kinds of cold salad spaghettis: tuna and seaweed or mushroom and bacon with a basil dressing. If it’s salad you crave, choose a spinach and bacon salad or Caesar salad to include more food groups. Spajiro serves set menus that include a small salad and drink or salad, drink and dessert. There is one dessert on the menu, a pudding that is melty and sweet – the perfect counterpoint to spicy spaghetti. Wine and beer are served at night and are inexpensive. Bottles of wine are reasonably priced. The price for beer and wine goes down when added to any spaghetti set menu. Don’t expect anything but spaghetti. No angel hair, no rigatoni, not even linguine. Just plain spaghetti.
During the day the Roppongi Spajiro is filled with locals who pour out of the office towers of Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown. At night the denizens of Roppongi drift in. The entrance is set back from the street; however, a large glass showcase filled with high-quality plastic food sits on the sidewalk, beckoning you to come in. Look over the selections in the case and choose what you want, or just venture in and sniff the delicious smells. There is an English menu. A long counter is perfect for dining alone. Cozy booths accommodate two to six people. Servers are friendly and hooked into a headphone system that ensures that the meal is served efficiently. All spaghetti is served with a small consommé to sip on while you wait. Baskets of utensils take up prime space on all the tables. Choose chopsticks, forks or spoons. Or a combination of both. Slurp or twirl? Wafu or Western? Either way, go.
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