The New Fusion Cuisine: How Chefs Are Celebrating Culinary Connections Between Italy and East Asia

The New Fusion Cuisine: How Chefs Are Celebrating Culinary Connections Between Italy and East Asia

Grubstreet |
Jan 11, 2017

You have to start with noodles, of course, which have been the most obvious link between the cuisines of Italy and East Asia for at least a few centuries. Long, thin strands of springy dough are the foundation of some of the world’s most important dishes, and even though Japanese food and Italian food may not seem entirely compatible at first, there are many shared sensibilities beyond noodles, like a love of umami and pristine ingredients. Yet it’s only been recently that chefs in America began to openly explore the true extent of this connection, working toward something like a newfangled Italian-Chinese-Japanese fusion.

“I’ve been eating ramen noodles for over 45 years,” says Hisanobu Osaka, the current chef at Chicago’s Intro, which he’s fashioned into a “Japanese-style” trattoria. “I started thinking, ‘What if I made homemade ramen dough, and changed the shape of ramen noodles to a pasta noodle, like rigatoni or agnolotti?” The result is a noodle that has the telltale chew of ramen, and the sauce-clinging abilities of Italian pasta, which Osaka serves with braised pork belly and scallions. “It’s exactly like a ragù,” he says.

In Japan, there is a long-established fascination with itameshi, or Italian food — a mingling of cultures that makes sense to lots of chefs. David Chang hit upon something similar, adding some pronounced influence from a famous Chinese dish, when he started mixing gnocchi-like rice cakes with ragù based on mapo tofu at Momofuku Ssäm Bar back in 2006, or offering a version of cacio-e-pepe-esque “butter noodles” laced with miso-like fermented chickpeas when he opened Momofuku Nishi last year. Chang is hardly alone: In St. Louis, you’ll find miso-ricotta ravioli at Sardella. A New York pop-up called Pasta Omakase offers dishes like tortellini in tonkatsu broth. The wildly popular Union Square udon spot, TsuruTonTan, serves a “truffle crème” version of its signature dish, tossed with a grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

A dish of “rigatoni à la Singapore” — with clams, shrimp, Italian sausage, Chinese broccoli, and XO sauce — from Massoni’s opening menu.Photo: Melissa Hom

Kengo Nakamura offers spaghetti with miso, as well as linguine with tomato and uni at Trattoria Nakamura-Ya in Las Vegas (making a point to use the Japanese name for sea-urchin roe). And uni pasta shows up again, mixed with caviar and chanterelle mushrooms, at Xiao Bao Biscuit in Charleston, South Carolina. (In fact, uni pasta has become so prevalent on restaurant menus, New York’s Adam Platt recently deemed it “the fettuccine Alfredo of our postmillennial dining age.”)

The Italian–East Asian connection certainly doesn’t begin and end at noodles. “If you start digging into cuisines like classical Cantonese or Japanese, you see that it’s really about the ingredient and not doing a lot to it,” says Dale Talde, “and that plays into the ethos of the Italian mentality of cooking.” At Massoni, which Talde just opened in Manhattan, he offers dishes like head-on fish cooked with ingredients that lean both Italian (Castelvetrano olives, capers) and Cantonese (ginger, scallion). “It eats like an Asian fish,” Talde says, “but has accents of Italian.” The chef also points to the restaurant’s version of Bolognese sauce: “I keep thinking, it’s the same exact dish as dan dan noodles, just without pickled mustard greens and Sichuan peppercorns in the soffrito.”

Another big driver of chefs’ willingness to combine these ingredients in such a freewheeling fashion is the ever-important need to give diners as much umami as possible. “When I eat pasta in Italy, in the sauce I can feel that same umami that I taste in ramen stock,” Osaka says. “That taste often comes from aged and fermented ingredients, whether that’s miso and soy sauce, or cheese.”

Pasta Omakase’s Angie Rito says she and her partner Scott Tacinelli were inspired to begin their fusion pop-up for a simpler reason: People really like this food. “Both cuisines now appeal to a wide audience, but separately,” Rito says. “At their core, they focus on the same things — so it makes sense to mix them together.”

Other combinations are more subtle, but no less effective, like the nori that Talde sneaks into Massoni’s Caesar salad. “These interpretations are what make cooking fun,” Talde says of his inclination to cross-pollinate as much as he can. “It’s a natural progression of the way cultures mix.”

Media Contact

Emily Clark pr@leye.com 773-878-7340

You May Also Like...

In The Restaurants
‘Tis the Season: Cozy Cocktails
Dec 16, 2016

Like it or not, winter is upon us. It’s getting quite chilly, the darkness approaches sooner than…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Lettuce Date Night
Aug 15, 2016

 

read more >
How To
Summer Sips: Smash Cocktails
Jun 16, 2016

Say hello to the season of patio drinkin' and cocktail shakin' - summer is officially here. To…

read more >

Recent Posts

How To
New Spots to Play Summer Scratch Off in Chicago
Jul 16, 2019

Summer Scratch Off is here and we're giving our Frequent Diner Club Members 88 days to eat, 88 days…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Bonne Fête! Celebrate Bastille Day at Mon Ami Gabi and Eiffel Tower
Jul 16, 2019

We're celebrating Bastille Day, the French National Day and anniversary of the Storming of Bastille,…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Dine Al Fresco This Patio Season in the Twin Cities
Jul 16, 2019

In the Twin Cities, you've waited all winter and now it's finally time to take it easy and dine al…

read more >
Openings
Pizzeria Portofino is Now Open on the Chicago River
Jul 16, 2019

Pizzeria Portofino is now open at 317 N. Clark Street, overlooking the Chicago River. From the team…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Best Spots for Group Dining
Jul 16, 2019

You finally got the whole crew to agree on the same day and time, now you just have to find the…

read more >
How To
Hey D.C.! Here’s How (and Where) To Play Summer Scratch Off
Jul 15, 2019

Summer Scratch Off is here and we're giving our D.C. area Frequent Diner Club Members 88 days to…

read more >
How To
Play Summer Scratch Off and Win: Las Vegas and Los Angeles
Jul 15, 2019

Summer Scratch Off is here and we're giving our Frequent Diner Club Members in Las Vegas and Los…

read more >
How To
Play and Win With Summer Scratch Off, Here’s How: Twin Cities
Jul 15, 2019

Summer Scratch Off is here and we're giving our Frequent Diner Club Members in Minnesota 88 days to…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Here’s Where to Eat the Best Mac and Cheese
Jul 14, 2019

In celebration of everyone's favorite cheesy dish we’ve rounded up some of our favorite…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Our Private Event Venues with Outdoor Space in Chicago
Jul 12, 2019

When planning your bridal shower, corporate holiday party, wedding, birthday celebration and more in…

read more >
In The Restaurants
Our 5 Favorite Frozen Cocktails To Sip on This Summer
Jul 10, 2019

Summer is here, which means it's time to cool down with a frozen cocktail! Sip on these boozy…

read more >
How To
Recipe: These Are Your Must Try Summer BBQ Condiments
Jul 10, 2019

The summer season is synonymous with grilling out and Nacional 27's Executive Chef Cory Morris is…

read more >
Lettuce Consulting Group

Grow Your Business

Learn More
Career Opportunities

Join Our Team

Search Jobs
Latest Articles

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Sign Up Now