Even though I only recently learned of itameshi, which means “Italian food” in Japanese, the two cuisines have enjoyed a happy marriage in Japan for a long, long time. And while some of the ingredients may look familiar –al dente spaghetti, chunky meat sauce, stuffed ravioli, crispy thin pizza crusts — the dishes are undeniably Japanese, adding in seaweed, soy sauce, mushroom, and all manners of fish to give it that unmistakable Japanese umami.
Oh, and ketchup is also a popular ingredient. Yes, ketchup.
Which makes me wonder: Though my kids love sushi, Asian noodle dishes, and sheets of crispy dried nori, how will they feel about some of these unique flavor combinations on the dinner table? And can I find these ingredients in my suburban supermarket?
So, I’ve searched and searched to pull together seven itameshi recipes that you can try in your own home, with ingredients that don’t require access to your own personal sushi chef or even an expensive Amazon pantsry order.
Most importantly, these itameshi recipes I’m recommending look like foods your kids will be willing to try — though maybe give them chopsticks to make the experience even more fun.
Top: Itameshi bacon and mushroom spaghetti | Japanese Cooking 101
Itameshi recipe 1: Pasta with shrimp and asparagus
I love this wafu, or Japanese-style pasta with shrimp and asparagus because Nami from Just One Cookbook also offers loads of suggestions for other good veggies to use in this dish. She also describes how to adjust the spice level for kids. It happens to be a gluten-free recipe, though you can easily change up the ingredients if you do eat gluten. And if you’re up for it, don’t miss her recipe for making your own dashi stock (you can use a shortcut powder available in many stores).
One thing I especially like about this itameshi recipe is that it doesn’t look particularly different from anything I’m already making at home, so I think my kids would try it. And by tweaking the protein and veggies to, say, chicken and snow peas, it looks like a great dish to add to our regular rotation.
Itameshi recipe 2: Spaghetti Napolitan
I’m really digging this Spaghetti Napolitan recipe from Food 52 which will look super familiar to my American kids — though interestingly, it uses ketchup instead of marinara as its main ingredient. Thought to have become more widely used in the 1950’s when real tomato sauce was hard to come by, ketchup should appeal to my kids who pull out the bottle at nearly every meal anyway.
While I love to see that runny egg on top, feel free to leave it off or serve on a side plate if you think that it will doom the dish for your kids.
Itameshi recipe 3: Shitake mushroom and umami ravioli
Homemade ravioli may sound daunting, but this recipe for shitake mushroom and umami ravioli at Japan Centre looks surprisingly easy and delicious. Especially if you get the kids to help out with making the ravioli. Chop up the mushrooms extra fine if you don’t want the kids to spot them right away.
Itameshi recipe 4: Ramen miso bolognese
This Japanese twist on Italian bolognese sauce from Not Quite Nigella looks so interesting and tasty. Using ramen instead of spaghetti, and including white miso paste for flavor, this would make a great dinner on a cold winter night. I’ve never seen fresh ramen in our local store, so I’d probably use the dried kind — minus the sodium-heavy flavor packets that come tucked inside.
Itameshi recipe 5: Bacon and mushroom spaghetti
If my kids are skeptical about trying Japanese/Italian fusion cooking, the smell of bacon frying should bring them around quickly. This bacon and mushroom spaghetti recipe from Japanese Cooking 101 is tossed with a sauce of mirin, sake, and soy sauce for a dish that’s totally different than what we normally serve for dinner. I know the crunchy roasted seaweed on top will be a big hit in our home, but leave on the side of the plate if you aren’t sure about your own kids’ tolerance for “green stuff.”
Itameshi recipe 6: Miso butter spaghetti noodles
With loads of variations, including vegetarian options, these miso butter spaghetti noodles by Seonkyoung Longest look easy enough for even a beginner cook or a busy multi-tasking parent (ahem) to pull together. Plus, this would make a great option if you need a healthy, quick meal to get on the table on a busy school night. Just add chopsticks.
Itameshi recipe 7: Corn and tuna pizza
If your kids are willing to go beyond plain-cheese pizza, this recipe for tuna and corn pizza from Japanese Cooking 101 will let you try a popular flavor combo without a long flight to Tokyo. I will admit that these pizza toppings may prove to be too adventurous for many families, but if yours is up for it, I would totally give it a shot. The main toppings are easy: canned tuna and corn. The only ingredient you may need to search for however, is Japanese mayonnaise, also known as Kewpie Mayonnaise (our affiliate Amazon has it). But even that can be replaced with pizza sauce if you’d prefer. And pre-made pizza dough would make this even easier to pull together in in a snap.
And if you’re concerned about your kids’ tastes? Maybe make a plain cheese version too, just in case.