Nikkei Food: Japanese-Peruvian Fusion Cuisine

Japanese Immigrants To Peru

‘Nikkei’ is a word used to describe people of Japanese descent who live as immigrants in another country; however, nowadays when people say the word Nikkei, they’re quite possibly referring to a type of cuisine. Nikkei food is a delicious combination of both Japanese and Peruvian ingredients – a cooking style which dates back to the turn of the century -and has influenced chefs all over the world. Here is a brief overview of the history of Nikkei, some of the best places you can get it, and what the future has in store.

The story begins on April 3, 1899, when the first ship of Japanese migrants arrived in Peru carrying 790 passengers looking for work on sugar plantations. Theirs is a story of strife and hardship, but also of triumph. Despite enduring hard labor in an unknown country, by the time their children had come of age, the Japanese immigrants had already become a significant part of the Peruvian community. Japanese-Peruvians quickly owned small businesses, including shops, hair salons, and of course, restaurants.

Nikkei cuisine stands before the world as a monument to their success, as Nikkei food combines elements of Peru and Japan with distinct techniques to create something wonderful.

Seafood

One of the major ways in which the Japanese influenced Peruvian cooking is by introducing seafood into their diet. Before the Japanese arrived, seafood did not make a regular appearance on the diet of the average Peruvian. Fish was on the menu if nothing else was available. Otherwise, locals fed scallops, mussels, and tuna to their dogs. Octopuses were left lying on the shore.

Seafood has been a staple of the Japanese diet for centuries, and the immigrants relished this near untouched surplus, often eating it raw as they did in their homeland. Meanwhile, Peruvian ingredients such as lime, corn, chili, cassava and potatoes went into forming the core of Nikkei food. Experts note how well the foods of these two cultures go together. The chili-soy flavor combination appears to be a perfect match. What was created out of necessity during a difficult chapter in history has now become a worldwide phenomenon.

Oddly enough, even in Peru, few people are familiar with Nikkei cuisine or its history, despite the fact that Peruvians eat Japanese influenced food on a daily basis. Even fewer people outside the country have heard of this style of cooking.

In the 90s, when Nikkei chefs tried showing their dishes to the world, many wrote the style off as just another fad. Few understood its cultural heritage. However, persistent chefs like Nobu Matsuhisa and Mitsuharu Tsumura are breaking through the veil, and Nikkei food is slowly becoming recognized for the powerhouse that it is.

The Future Of Nikkei

Trial very often leads to innovation and creativity. Nikkei is a long-standing testament to that fact. From a survival technique to a global community, Nikkei cuisine has stood the test of time, and after waiting in obscurity for years, it is gaining international recognition thanks to dedicated chefs championing the cause. The story of Nikkei cuisine is just getting started. To what heights it will ascend remains to be seen and how future creators will interpret this rich, cultural tradition is a mystery.