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.