Wafu pasta is Japan’s answer to Italian pasta, a fusion with Asian-style ingredients.
In this recipe, I’m sharing a tasty combination of prawns in a delicious sauce with soy, butter, sake, and tomatoes.
It’s a unique mix of flavors that combines traditional Japanese umami with Italian spaghetti pasta and seafood.
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 How to make a great wafu pasta
- 2 Wafu pasta with spaghetti and prawns
- 3 What is wafu pasta?
- 4 Wafu pasta recipe variations
- 5 How to serve wafu pasta & what to pair it with
- 6 Wafu pasta: nutritional information
- 7 Origins of wafu pasta
- 8 Takeaway
How to make a great wafu pasta
Wafu pasta with spaghetti and prawns
- 300 grams spaghetti
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 garlic clove crushed
- 300 grams cherry tomatoes halved
- 15 - 20 prawns small (peeled)
- 2 tbsp sake
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp butter
- sprinkle of togarashi Japanese seven spice
- 1 tbsp salt for pasta water
- Grab a large saucepan and boil water with 1 tbsp salt.
- Once boiling, add the spaghetti and cook until al dente (about 5-7 minutes) or according to package instructions.
- Heat a large saucepan, add oil, and the garlic clove. Stir once or twice for about 20 seconds until the garlic releases its fragrance.
- Add the cherry tomatoes, stirring, until the tomatoes are starting to wilt (3-4 minutes).
- Now add the peeled prawns and the sake and cook for 2 minutes. The prawns should not be cooked yet.
- Add the butter and soy sauce, stir well, and cook for an additional 2 minutes or until prawns look done.
- Mix in the pasta with the prawns and sauce. You are now ready to plate and serve this tasty dish. Add a sprinkle of togarashi spice.
If you don’t have any togarashi spice, don’t worry! My favorite brand Yoshi has this Nanami togarashi:
What is wafu pasta?
Wafu is a pretty modern Japanese fusion food. It refers to Italian-style pasta, like spaghetti, with Japanese seasoning and umami flavor.
The wafu pasta trend really took off after WWII as a result of Western influences. However, this is unlike the pasta you’d expect at American or European restaurants.
For example, you’ll find interesting combinations like Ume Wafu paste which is pasta with umeboshi pickled plums, or shirasu wafu pasta with small raw or boiled sardines and spaghetti.
But wafu is not really a type of pasta. The word wafu (和風) refers to “Japanese-style”, not the pasta itself. It’s more of an expression that refers to a Japanese take on different Western dishes.
Next to wafu pasta, there are things as wafu dashi for example.
To make a wafu style pasta dish, you can basically add any of the ingredients you would add to rice. Wafu pasta sauces usually contain soy sauce, sake, or mirin as a seasoning.
The idea behind wafu recipes is to give them an umami savory flavor that pairs nicely with bland ingredients like Italian pasta.
Wafu pasta recipe variations
Here are some ways to upgrade and make this pasta dish more interesting.
For the sauce, we’re using sake, soy sauce, and butter.
Sake substitutes like rice vinegar, cooking wines, or even grape juice are good alternatives. Mirin makes the sauce sweeter if you like.
Tamari is a great gluten-free soy-sauce substitute. Low-sodium soy sauce is another option if you’re looking to reduce your salt intake.
This recipe uses prawns, but you can use any type of seafood, including larger prawns, shrimp, crab, lobster, salmon, and even tuna or cod fillets.
If you use clams or mussels, then make sure to use less soy sauce or a reduced-sodium soy sauce because clams are quite salty.
I prefer spaghetti because it’s chewy and long but you can also use a thicker pasta like fettuccine, tagliatelle, or linguine.
If you’re out of long pasta, any type will do, even small pasta pieces like gemelli, fusilli, penne, or rigatoni.
Just make sure to cook all the pasta al dente so it doesn’t become too mushy.
I like to keep it simple, so I use only cherry tomatoes but you can use all kinds of tomatoes and chop them into small pieces.
As well, you can replace them with broccoli, asparagus (you might need to cook fresh ones in a special pan), snap peas, green beans, or edamame.
While it’s uncommon to use cheese in this pasta recipe, you can always add some grated parmesan as a nice topping to make the dish more filling and wholesome.
Togarashi is the Japanese 7 spice, but you can just use some black pepper, white pepper, and chili flakes. Or, add some toasted sesame seeds, or ichimi togarashi (mild chili spice).
If you want to add some green toppings to add some nice color, use Japanese parsley, cilantro, or watercress.
How to serve wafu pasta & what to pair it with
This pasta recipe is a complete meal that pairs well with a glass of wine or some premium sake.
You can serve it hot for lunch or dinner and even have it as a tasty leftover meal the next day.
It is one of those simple yet flavorful meals that gives the best of both worlds: the carbs and starch of Western pasta, and the sweet and savory umami flavors that come from prawns, sake, and soy sauce.
If you want to have this as part of a two or three-course meal, I recommend a light miso soup as the starter and a light fruity dessert because the pasta is already a fair source of carbs and calories.
Wafu pasta: nutritional information
A serving of this spaghetti and prawn pasta has between 500-600 calories, depending on the prawns and type of soy sauce you use.
It also contains approximately 13-15 grams of fat, 200 mg of cholesterol, 250 mg sodium, and 67 – 70 grams of carbohydrates.
Thus, it’s a carb-packed pasta dish, but the prawns make it healthier than most other pasta dishes (i.e carbonara).
Prawns are a great source of healthy protein, vitamins, and minerals. They contain healthy types of cholesterol, good fats, and they are low in calories, so you can have more prawns without feeling guilty.
In terms of health benefits, prawns are good sources of calcium, iron, omega 3, vitamin b6, and magnesium.
For more wafu pasta inspiration, check out my Japanese style mushroom pasta recipe: deliciously creamy butter soy sauce pasta
Origins of wafu pasta
Western and Italian pasta was first imported to Japan sometime during the late 1800s which was a period of internationalization and exploration.
People visited the world and came back with many new ingredients and recipes, among them pasta.
It was different from noodles, so it was a new way to experiment with cooking techniques.
The post-WWII period was one of culinary experimentation. In a small Tokyo restaurant called “Kabenoana”, the chef started to cook Italian pasta with uniquely Japanese ingredients, and many believe this is where wafu pasta was born.
What you’ll notice about wafu pasta is that the umami flavored sauce really stands out as the base flavor of a dish, and the meat and vegetable toppings are quite light.
Also, there’s no real focus on cheese, especially parmesan as toppings.
Next time you’re out of dinner ideas, grab some prawns, a packet of pasta, and bring out your favorite Asian condiments to make this easy wafu pasta.
Since it’s versatile, you can always add more vegetables to make it healthier or make it the ultimate comfort food with a sprinkle of parmesan.
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