Mentaiko Pasta is a classic Japanese style spaghetti dish made with spicy cod roe sauce and topped with fragrant shiso leaves. The best part about this dish is how quick it is to make, you can make it in 15 minutes or less! Not to mention it's delicious, it's a household favourite!
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Wafu Pasta (和風パスタ) is a delicious fusion of Italian spaghetti, flavoured with Japanese ingredients and seasonings. Spaghetti was introduced to Japan in the 1800's but it's popularity boomed after the war and wafu pasta became a popular type of dish to enjoy at restaurants and at home.
Japanese style pasta dishes often include ingredients that would normally be enjoyed with rice. Some of these ingredients include things like Japanese mushrooms, popular Japanese seafood like uni (sea urchin) or cod roe, nori, shiso leaves, soy sauce, dashi and bonito flakes.
Popular Pasta Dishes in Japan
A survey conducted by a Japanese site called "Nifty" shows that the top 5 pasta dishes in Japan are:
- Spaghetti Meat Sauce (スパゲッティミートソース)
- Spaghetti Napolitan (ナポリタン)
- Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce (トマトソース)
- Tarako / Mentaiko Pasta (たらこ・明太子)
- Spaghetti Carbonara (カルボナーラ)
Japanese people love Italian food and also love changing recipes to suit Japanese tastes. Mentaiko pasta was one of my favourite dishes growing up!
Tarako and Mentaiko
Tarako (たらこ) and Mentaiko (明太子) are made from the roe (eggs) of a type of cod called Alaskan pollock. The eggs are held together in a thin edible membrane, a bit like a sausage skin. Tarako and mentaiko do not taste overly fishy and they can be eaten cooked or raw.
Tarako is simply seasoned with salt or brine. It can vary in colour from pale pink to red, usually achieved by food colouring.
Mentaiko, on the other hand, is seasoned with chilis and spices. It's often deep red in colour and packed with umami! It can also be called "Karashi Mentaiko" (辛子明太子), karashii being the word for "spicy" in Japanese.
Mentaiko was first created in the Korean peninsula and was brought over to Japan after the war. They called it "myeongtae", which is where the word "mentai" comes from.
The Japanese word "mentaiko" means "mentai's child" and actually, "Ko" (子) often refers to the egg in recipes. For example, "Oyakodon" (親子丼) is chicken and egg rice bowl.
Mentaiko in Japan was developed further to suit Japanese tastes by making it less spicy and pickling it, and the mentaiko as we know it today was born!
Mentaiko is most commonly eaten as a side dish with rice or used as a flavouring for all kinds of different dishes. Here are a few popular ones!
- Mentaiko Onigiri Rice Ball
- Mentaiko Furansu (Small baguette with mentaiko inside)
- Mentaiko gratin
- Mentaiko pasta
Tarako / Mentaiko Pasta
Mentaiko pasta is a simple dish of spaghetti coated in a delicious sauce made with mentaiko.
The origin of mentaiko pasta takes place in a pasta specialty restaurant in Tokyo called "Kabe no Ana" (壁の穴), which means "Hole in the Wall". One day, a customer asked for caviar pasta, however because caviar is an expensive luxury item, the chef used Japanese "tarako" instead.
Tarako spaghetti grew in popularity and some people would replace the tarako with mentaiko, giving their pasta a spicy, umami kick! Food companies joined the hype by selling easy premade sauces in packets at supermarkets. (You can buy S&B mentaiko pasta sauce as pictured above on Amazon.)
Mentaiko sauce is commonly made with soy sauce, black pepper, olive oil, and milk. It's super easy to make and doesn't need to be cooked, the hot pasta warms it through!
This dish can be topped with nori or shiso/ooba (perilla) leaves, but I love shiso the most because it adds a more refreshing flavour with the mentaiko sauce.
I hope you enjoy this classic Wafu Pasta dish!
Check out our video for How to Make Mentaiko Pasta VideoPrint
Step by step recipe
It's spicy cod roe from Alaskan pollock.
Tarako is cod roe seasoned with salt or brine, mentaiko has extra spices and often seasoned with chili to make it a bit spicy.
It's a bit salty and not too fishy, it's well loved by kids and adults alike.
It's the spicy version of tarako, so it's spicy, salty and packed with umami. They vary across Japan and can be seasoned with different things.
Unfortunately they can be quite hard to find outside of Japan. Your best bet is to find a Japanese supermarket or Asian supermarket. You could also try looking online.