Flavours of Nikkei: lifting the lid on Peru’s latest fusion craze

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One of my favourite things about traveling is diving deep into a culture and tasting the local flavour. Food is such an intimate experience. Every where you go, people put their stories on the plate. So it was a surprise for me to discover Nikkei, a culinary style I’d never heard of. One that combines the best of Japan with the best of Peru.

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When you learn the history, it’s not so strange. After Brazil, Peru has the second-largest Japanese population on the continent. And that cultural heritage has permeated into the food, fusing Japanese techniques with Peruvian ingredients to create something totally new. Nikkei. Think fresh fish and sashimi, but spiked with lime juice, grilled corn, aji peppers, yucca and any of the dozens of potato varieties indigenous to the country. That’s Nikkei. My two favourite cuisines in one: why didn’t Willy Wonka come up with this sooner?

Our Intrepid groupI head to Hanzo in Lima, one of the city’s hottest restaurants. It’s the home of Head Chef Eduardo Fujihara (great name), who gives us an introduction to Nikkei cuisine. Our first stop? The local market. It’s obvious as we walk through the bustling stalls that Eduardo is well known in these parts. Fish vendors vie for his attention, calling out prices and the catch of the day. Eduardo makes his selections carefully; he’s adamant that Hanzouses only the very best ingredients. The freshest, whitest squid. The most blushing, tangerine salmon. Eduardo says the quality of his work is dependent on the quality of these ingredients. There aren’t any shortcuts. We stop at a stall to admire the local fruit. Eduardo points out a lime that looks to me like any other lime. “That is native to this country,” he says. “It has a unique flavour. It’s essential to Nikkei.” Nikkei is such a particular and unique palate, that even the legendary Nobu Matsuhisa was inspired by it, adding touches of Nikkei to his own dishes. I can see why.