The first time I met Cyrus Ichiza in person, I was taken by his kindness and warmth. He has an immediacy that makes you feel connected and valued. That kind of loving attention as well as a commitment to beautiful presentation is evident in every bite of food he and his team, including his partner Ryan Wythe, put out in their teeny tiny kitchen in Southwest Portland. Ichiza Kitchen is rooted in Cyrus’ deep knowledge of East and Southeast Asian cuisines; the food adds his playfulness and imagination without losing the soul. Cyrus and Ryan run both this wonderful vegan restaurant and a vegan meat company, Ichiza Eats. We are honored to have our Umi noodles in their Pompoko Ramen, but you cannot leave Ichiza Kitchen without having dessert; it would be criminal. I had the most gorgeous and delicious dessert I have eaten in Portland, Oregon—a sorbet with young coconut and fresh fruit that made me feel light-headed. I am living in a constant dream of my next bite.
Owner and chef: Cyrus Ichiza
Restaurant: Ichiza Kitchen & Tea House, 1628 SW Jefferson St, Portland, OR 97201, open 7 days a week, 12 pm to 10 on
Opened: July 15, 2017
Word of the day: Tea! I just had a great experience at a friend's new British-style high tea cafe in NE called Lovejoy's Portland. Ryan and I love tea, which is why we have such a great selection of teas at Ichiza Kitchen. It pairs so well with all different types of cuisine, it’s healthy, and I love the history that surrounds different styles of tea service.
Tell us about your favorite childhood meal. French fries (maybe even still my favorite food today). When I was growing up, my grandma would put me in the backseat of the car around my bed time when I couldn't sleep and drive to a fast food drive-thru and order me my own French fries. She would just drive around and around the neighborhood until I finished my fries and fell asleep for the night. They are also the most ubiquitous vegan food no matter where you are in the country. I still sometimes sneak off to a drive-thru on my way home from Ichiza Kitchen to grab some fries before relaxing after a long day at the restaurant.
How would you explain Ichiza Kitchen to your mother? Ichiza Kitchen is a small, homey neighborhood restaurant that specializes in re-creating traditional Southeast Asian foods like dim sum and noodle and rice dishes without using any animal ingredients. Our food delivers the same textures, bold flavors, and artistic presentation you would expect from some of your favorite hole-in-the-wall family-owned restaurants in Japan, China, or the Philippines but in Portland, Oregon!
Tell us about your commitment to an all-vegan menu. I have been vegetarian/vegan since I was 14. It was really born out of a desire to live in-step with my politics and to be more compassionate to animals and the environment around me. I was also lucky to be influenced by close friends and extended family who were vegan or vegetarian, which is how I got to using the vegan imitation meat products we feature in our cuisine. My Auntie Layonna operates a grocery store in Oakland where she's been selling her fake meats that are made in Taiwan. We also package the fake meats here in Portland now and you can buy them in a couple of local grocery stores (Food Fight! Grocery) or from us directly at Ichiza Eats. Thus, I feel like Ichiza Kitchen is the culmination of a lot of different influences and my love for cooking in a way that is good for you, the animals, and the planet!
What ingredients are you most jazzed about this winter? Garlic chives, winter melon, and white fungus. Garlic chives add a great umami to our broths or chive cake dumplings reminiscent of like a chicken noodle soup. Winter melon and white fungus are both so versatile because they can be used in sweet or savory dishes in Pacific Island food. They are also very fortifying for the body, particularly this time of year. I'm working on a couple of specials right now to round off the winter season!
What’s your favorite part of using Umi ramen noodles? The taste and texture are unmatched compared to other ramen noodles we've tried. Even when we tried making our own, Umi's noodles are so much better! Our kitchen staff even sneak them into our other (non-ramen) soups because they like them so much!
Please describe your Pompoko Ramen to us. Can you explain the origin of the name Pompoko? 'Pompoko' is the term for the sound a Tanuki makes when it bangs on its hungry belly! A Tanuki is a raccoon-dog like species in Japan and has been epitomized in Japanese mythical tales as a creature with magical shape-shifting powers derived from its, umm, ball sack. We wanted to invoke the shape-shifting or transformational elements of the Tanuki for the Pompoko Ramen because we use a variety of vegan imitation meats to mimic their non-vegan counterparts like pork belly, fish cake, and even egg! Our Pompoko Ramen uses Umi Organic ramen noodles in a fermented bamboo and shiitake mushroom dashi broth with enoki mushrooms, napa cabbage, shiitake, green onion, vegan pork belly, and vegan fish cake.
What are you looking forward to in 2019? I'm really excited to see Ichiza Eats grow more! It’s been really popular at Food Fight! Grocery and a few more restaurants have picked it up. I'm hoping to attend a couple of festivals this year to represent Ichiza Eats to spread the word about the vegan imitation meat products we carry. I have also been really involved in planning Vegan Iron Chef! The VIC committee has been revived and we're working on a plan to get it up and going this year again - stay tuned for more updates about VIC dates and how you can participate!
Photos by Shawn Linehan.