Itameshi or イタめし in Japanese, translates “Italian food”; a cheerful devotion to the subtleties of the Japanese and Italian culinary traditions. Alas, the term goes far beyond just the Japanese indulging in their love of Italian cuisine. Itameshi dishes unite the cuisines of two countries that may at first seem unalike, but in essence are the perfect addition to each other, notably sharing a strong emphasis on seasonality and simplicity.
Italian cuisine has been popular in Japan for several decades. Yuko Suyama has reported that the first Italian restaurant in Japan opened its doors in 1881. Further Italian food sentience started growing in the 1920s when spaghetti was introduced to cities across Japan. Other sources indicate that, in the 1960s, Italian-style red or tomato-based sauces and spaghetti became popular in Japan because Italian-American troops living there after the Second World War contained the noodles. It was a while later, following the Asian economic crash in the late 1990s, that Itameshi really started making waves in Japan, knocking Haute French cuisine off its throne and shift towards “friendly, cheap, and cheerful” Italian fare emerging. Tokyo got an Eataly, the Italian market destination, two years before New York City.
So, you may not be surprised to hear that Italian food is extremely popular in the country; the Japanese even have a word for it, Itameshi!
There is a lot of common ground between the cooking styles of Italy and Japan which make for a menu that everyone will enjoy. There is a profound love of simple, flavourful food, made with high-quality and primarily seasonal ingredients —the fascination runs much deeper. Both cuisines have a lot of depth in their savoury foods and a love of umami [the fifth taste that is usually described as meaty]. 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. Forget the usual Carbonara or Spaghetti Bolognese. When experiencing Itameshi, you ought to try some curious and creative fusion tastes such as Wafu Spaghetti.
Essentially, aren’t sashimi and Crudo close relatives that honestly should get to know each other better?