If you’re not familiar with Wafu Italian, chances are you will be soon — thanks in no small part to chef Robbie Felice and his pastaRAMEN pop-ups in New Jersey and Los Angeles.
Wafu is a Japanese word meaning “Japanese-style,” and Wafu Italian is a popular style of cooking in Japan that reimagines Italian dishes through a Japanese lens. But it’s not about fusion and the “anything goes” mashups of two cuisines. It’s deeply respectful of both culinary traditions.
Imagine what a classic Italian dish like Spaghetti alla Carbonara might taste like if it was prepared with authentic Japanese ingredients, techniques and styles of presentation. The goal is to seamlessly blend flavors and ideas so that you simply can’t tell if the dish is Italian or Japanese — it’s truly the best of both worlds.
For James Beard Award-nominated Felice, Chef-Partner at Viaggio and Osteria Crescendo in New Jersey, one key to achieving that authenticity is tapping into an essential common denominator of the two cuisines: umami. Both draw on umami-rich ingredients, like soy sauce and miso in Japan and parmesan and aged balsamic in Italy.
When it comes to traditionally brewed soy sauce, Kikkoman is Felice’s go-to for complex flavor, consistent quality and just the kind of umami wafu dishes require. And it’s the brand he trusts for everything from Teriyaki and Katsu Sauce to Sesame Oil and Panko.
Italian and Japanese are two beloved cuisines whose popularity in foodservice just keeps increasing. That’s why we think Wafu Italian is the next big trend to watch, and we invite you — and your customers — to taste the best of wafu yourself. Here are eight of Chef Robbie’s signature menu items to inspire you.
Noodles meet crudo: This stunning presentation features a twirl of ramen topped with raw spot prawns on a golden tomato sauce finished with drops of prawn head oil.
Creamy + crunchy: Felice tosses ramen in a thick, buttery Japanese-style shrimp scampi sauce and garnishes with crispy garlic panko bread crumbs, parsley and lemon zest to add flavor, color and texture.
Way to wafu: Chef Robbie’s slow-simmered Bolognese sauce combines classic Italian ingredients like beef, veal, pork, and guanciale with Asian flavor accents, including mirin, miso, soy and teriyaki sauces, and sesame oil. To complete the wafu effect, he serves the sauce with ramen instead of traditional fresh or dried Italian pasta.
Bite-sized Bolognese: Chef Robbie prepares a classic Bolognese sauce, enhanced with Kikkoman®️ Kotteri Mirin, Teriyaki Sauce, Soy Sauce and Sesame Oil. The sauce is combined with cooked ramen, mozzarella, and Parmigiano Reggiano, and the cooled mixture is formed into balls. They’re dredged in flour, eggs and panko, then deep-fried to-order and served with a spicy sweet soy dipping sauce.
Milanese, katsu-style: Chef Robbie combines the best of Cotoletta alla Milanese and tonkatsu (Japanese pork cutlet), coating a pounded pork chop with ginger-spiced panko and frying it to a crisp golden finish. It’s served with a beurre blanc–style katsu sauce that blends the best of European and Japanese culinary traditions.
Wafu Caesar: Caesar becomes a whole different thing with the addition of our sushi sauce, soy sauce, and sesame oil. The traditional croutons get replaced with a crunchy sprinkling of sesame-garlic panko.
A better way to burrata: How do you give burrata an element of surprise? Chef Robbie injects it with a sweet soy-garlic mixture to create a totally unexpected umami-rich cente
Raising the steaks: Felice seasons strip steaks with a porcini–juniper berry rub and cooks them in miso butter, then finishes with a surprising garnish: rendered dry-aged beef fat and sesame oil, mixed with tapioca maltodextrin to create a “snow” that melts in the mouth to add tongue-coating richness and delicate flavor.
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