Welcome to Wafu-Italian Cuisine

Why isn’t this Japanese-Italian food mashup on everyone’s trend list?

By Stefanie Gans

Every outlet from New York Times to Food & Wine to Yahoo! News declares the next year’s food trends. Plant-based cooking, laksa, a Southeast Asian soup and the Chinese spirit baijiu all made lists. 

In DC, we have another entry: wafu-Italian cuisine. 

Wafu means “Japanese-style,” and no, this isn’t fusion food like thinking wasabi should bring a zing to mashed potatoes. Wafu refers to Japanese style, and it reflects the idea of a certain cultural appreciation. It can describe varying art forms, like music, architecture, fashion and, of course, food.

Kabe no Ana, a restaurant in Tokyo, is credited with serving Italian pasta with Japanese flavors in the early 1950s. And it wasn’t until 2020 that Daikaya Group brought this style of dining to the District. 

Tonari had the unfortunate timing to open mere weeks before the world shut down. Not wanting to debut to the public via takeout containers, the group shut it down. It reopened the last weeks of 2021, resurrecting long, chewy noodles coated in a riff on XO sauce with bonito and Spam. There’s also a tagliatelle bolognese with nduja and Japan’s S&B brand curry. Risotto is spiked with shio-koji, stracchino, Parmesan, Asian pear and chinotto. The pasta is made in Sapporo, Japan at the same factory as Daikaya Group’s signature ramen noodles, featured in the group’s other restaurants: Daikaya ramen shop (there’s an izakaya upstairs), Bantam King (chicken ramen and fried chicken), Haikan, (Sapporo-style ramen of the Showa period and kozara, or small dishes) and Hatoba (classic and reimagined Hawiian dishes, plus Sapporo-style ramen). 

While there’s a documented history of wafu pasta, Daikaya Group used that same source material of Italian structure and Japanese flavors to develop a one-of-a-kind pillowy, chewy, almost cloudlike pan pizza, adorned with pepperoni, Japanese brick cheese and shoyu-pickled jalapenos or another, another, the mentaiko, with a Kewpie corn puree. 

Maybe the rest of the world will catch up in 2023. Just wait for the wafu-Italian trend in next year’s lists. 

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