As one year ends and another begins, industry experts are asked what they think will be the trends watch.
Last month, Food & Wine published a deep dive into dozens of 2020 food and restaurant predictions. And one in particular caught our eye.
It’s a style of cuisine called itameshi, which translates to “Italian food” in Japanese . After doing a bit of research it became clear that this is more than just the Japanese indulging their love of Italian cuisine.
According to several sources, Italian cuisine has been popular in Japan for decades. Writing for Identità Golose, an online Italian publication dedicated to international cuisine, Yuko Suyama says the first Italian restaurant in Japan opened its doors in 1881. Other sources to point to spaghetti becoming popular in Japan in the 1960s because American military rations contained the noodles.
Chicago Reader author Mike Sula explains that itameshi really started making noise in Japan in the 1990s, knocking haute French cuisine off its pedestal. Tokyo got an Eataly, the Italian market juggernaut, two years before New York City.
Again, this isn’t just people in Japan eating more Italian food than any other international cuisine—the fascination runs deeper.
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Gene Kato, chef and partner at Japanese restaurant Momotaro Italia in Chicago, made the prediction to Food & Wine, saying, “Itameshi dishes meld the cuisines of two countries that at first glance seem different, but upon diving deeper perfectly complement each other.”
Japanese chefs are paying homage to both Japanese and Italian cultures through both cuisines. This is a fully realized fusion two cuisines that work very well together. Common approaches to itameshi include using ramen dough to make Italian-style noodles, ragù-type sauces made with pork belly, and the use of Japanese vegetables in dishes.
Tarako spaghetti is one of the most popular itameshi dishes. Take al dente noodles, toss them with butter and either pollock or cod roe, and add a splash of soy sauce (and sometimes lemon juice). Scroll up to the top of the page to see an example of tarako spaghetti.
This cuisine has been slowly gaining traction throughout the United States. There are restaurants that feature their takes on itameshi items—like Momotaro, operated by James Beard Award-winning Boka Restaurant Group—and there are restaurants dedicated to the cuisine, like Trattoria Nakamura-Ya in Las Vegas, helmed by Chef Kengo Nakamura. If Momotaro’s Chef Kato is right, this delicious and intriguing culinary style is poised to become a hot food trend this year.
Itameshi speaks to a number of other food predictions that have been proven true: a desire by guests to try more adventurous dining options, a rise in the interest in and popularity of ethnic cuisines in the United States, the blending and embracing of myriad cultures through restaurants and food, and authentic storytelling through food and presentation.
This blending of Italian and Japanese cuisines will hopefully inspire BoH teams to experiment and combine—and more importantly compliment—other cuisines. That experimentation will likely inspire bar teams to create drinks that honor both cuisines and the dishes’ flavors. 2020 is a time to experiment and be adventurous, holding guests’ interest and motivating them to visit more often.
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Itameshi certainly isn’t the first form of fusion cuisine but it may be one of the strongest, and one that brings diners and restaurant teams that much closer together.
Hungry for more? Ten amazing professional chefs will be doing live demos and sharing the hottest in culinary trends during the F&B Innovation Conference, co-located with Nightclub & Bar Show 2020 on the expo floor. Click here to learn more about the FBIC and chefs. Register today!
Stephens, Regan. “These Will Be the Biggest Food Trends of 2020, According to Chefs.” Food & Wine. December 10, 2019.
Suyama, Yuko. “The Itameshi phenomenon.” Identità Golose. June 19, 2013.
Sula, Mike. “Worlds collide with Intro’s Japanese-Italian trattoria menu.” Chicago Reader. December 5, 2016.