When considering traditional Japanese cuisine, dishes full of unique umami flavors such as sushi or ramen might come to mind. However, just like in North America, cultures worldwide take inspiration from cuisines brought over by immigrants. Fusion foods in Japan have become one of a kind, including Itameshi, the country’s own take on Italian food.
Itameshi is a fusion cuisine from Japan that combines traditional elements of both Japanese and Italian food. In Japanese, Itameshi simply translates to ‘Italian food’ While the word does refer to authentic Italian cuisine, it also describes the country’s Japanese-Italian fusion food genre. The name comes from the combination of the Japanese name for Italy and the Japanese word for meal.
The popularity of Itameshi has increased over the years, but it all started in the early 20th century. The fusion cuisine was popularized in Japanese cafes in the 1920s when spaghetti with red sauce was first introduced by Italian American GIs in the country. However, it wasn’t until the 1990s when Itameshi gained a bigger foothold in Japan.
Until the 1990s, French cuisine was the peak European cuisine in Japan. However, when the Asian financial crisis hit, many upscale restaurants were no longer suitable for Japan’s economic climate. Many chefs turned to Italian food as a cheaper alternative, while also bringing flavors back to the basics. Italian cuisine was perceived as warmer, upbeat, and more relatable by diners compared to formal French cuisine. From there, Italian food became even more popular in Japan.
When enjoying Itameshi cuisine, you can look forward to all the flavors of Italy with a distinctive Japanese twist. Familiar dishes such as spaghetti, stuffed ravioli, meat sauce, and pizza become undeniably Japanese by adding ingredients such as soy sauce, mushrooms, and seaweed to add that unmistakable umami flavor.
With both cuisines sharing a dedication to regional ingredients and a respect for noodles, rice, and seafood, it’s no wonder why they create the perfect fusion cuisine. Whether wanting Italian classics with a Japanese twist or curious about new flavor combinations, Itameshi is a delicious fusion of two culinary traditions.