Photo: Kayla Marsh
Photo: Kayla Marsh

Taste of Japan’s 2017 Best of the Best: Daikaya Group Honored for Authentic Ramen

A night of honoring Japanese culinary prowess turned into two-and-a-half hours of exploring traditional yet modern Japanese cuisine at Mess Hall in Brookland on Tuesday evening. The Daikaya Group (Daikaya Ramen/Izakaya, Bantam King, Haikan), a welcome addition to our ramen-loving city, was the 2017 recipient of this year’s Taste of Japan Honorary Award. The Taste of Japan Committee Washington D.C. and Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan cohosted a reception to celebrate the Daikaya Group’s creative use of authentic Japanese ingredients.

Taste of Japan kicked off the evening with a sophisticated bar ranging from a glass of chardonnay to a Japanese whiskey and ginger ale-based cocktail. There was also a table set up with three different types of sake that each had a subtly sweet taste and natural carbonation. Waiters stepped out of the kitchen one at a time with trays serving dainty sushi plates as appetizers. Japan-imported rice was delicately crafted into sushi rolls from KAZ Sushi Bistro, including salmon nigiri with wasabi zuke and a tasty tuna sushi roll, among others.

After the room was warmed up with fresh sushi and refreshing cocktails, the award ceremony began with different members and representatives speaking to the crowd about the legacy and diversity of Japanese food. It was an interesting yet complex education about tradition, passion and the Americanization of Japanese food that eventually concluded with the award presentation to the cutting-edge Daikaya Group.

Daikaya’s visionaries are Daisuke Utagawa, Yama Jewayni and Chef Katsuya Fukushima, who opened the groundbreaking ramen house in 2013. The trio humbly accepted the award together. Each of their three restaurants (including Bantan King and Haikan) represents a unique take on Japanese food, with Daikaya focusing on authentic ramen noodles. These noodles are Sapporo-style ramen, which is one of the most popular ramen styles from Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan. The soup stock needs over 16 hours of preparation to create a delightful and intricately flavored broth, which is a combination of chicken, pork and beef flavors. Daikaya’s labor-intensive, one-of-a-kind recipes are the reason they’re one of the hottest spots in DC right now. The whole audience was reminded that ramen is to be eaten quickly and without talking to anyone – and is meant to be slurped.

The Daikaya team served two different types of delectable ramen dishes for dinner. The chicken in Bantam King’s shoyu paitan ramen was roasted all day and cooked in butter, and that extra juice at the end was made to go over a different rice dish as an American fusion concoction. The comforting warm broth was the superstar in this dish, and it was totally acceptable to drink it from the bowl like cereal milk until it vanished. The more popular of the two ramen dishes was Daikaya’s lox and bagel aburamen. This dish allowed the noodles alone to truly shine with intense flavor and delicate texture. There was an obvious spicy kick to the dish, which had everyone in Mess Hall talking about it. To get the full effect of lox and bagel, Chef Fukushima suggested mixing it all together so that the dollop of cream cheese on top was spread throughout every noodle. The spiciness combined with hints of saltiness made the lasting impression of an everything bagel with noodles added.

Some small tasty plates included somen salad with agebitashi, and soba with sweet soy gelee and renkon chips presented by M’s Kitchen. The must-have dessert of the night was the fuyuu persimmon. These persimmons were imported from Japan just for the event, and they were definitely worth it. Sliced on a toothpick, this orange fruit was perfection with its cantaloupe color and texture, and a subtle hint of cinnamon. The sweetness and satisfying crunchiness were just enough to cleanse our palate at the end of a long night of feasting.

Taste of Japan Committee Washington DC packed this event with award recognition and incredible Japanese food, while showcasing the legacy and diversity of Japanese culture and how it’s been incorporated into the Western food industry. To see more about the Daikaya Group and their restaurants, visit their website. You can also learn more about the Taste of Japan organization here.

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Kayla Marsh

Kayla grew up in Falls Church and graduated from JMU in May 2016 with a major in media arts and design. She was an editor for two student-produced publications in addition to studying Spanish, Italian and American Sign Language. She has Harrisonburg's incredible food scene to thank for her beer and food obsessions. You can find her singing in traffic, eating tacos or live tweeting The Bachelor.