If one takes a look at the world globe, Peru lies almost at the opposite (the exact antipode is in Ecuador) end of Singapore. Yet there are many similarities in the cuisine: a penchant for spiciness, plenty of tropical produce, and predilection for Japanese cuisine. However, while Japanese cuisine arrived in Singapore in the wake of Japan’s economic development and globalisation, it entered the Peru’s culture in a very different way — a wave of Japanese immigrants arrived in Peru in the late 1800s to work as labourers, which paved the way for a significant ethnic Japanese population in Peru today.
With the influx of Japanese immigrants to the South American country came ingredients and techniques, which changed the way Peruvians thought about their national dish, ceviche. Traditionally, the dish was restricted to a few species of seafood — usually white-fleshed fish — that was “cooked” for several hours in acid until almost completely denatured. Through the influence of the Japanese, most of the ceviche you’d find today is only briefly marinated in the mixture of citrus, alliums, and aromatics known as leche de tigre, or tiger’s milk.
Nikkei cuisine all over the world
This also led to the development of something quite beautiful: a Japanese-Peruvian hybrid style of cooking known as Nikkei cuisine. Unlike the bad reputation of some syncretic cuisines like sugar-heavy Americanised Chinese food, Nikkei cuisine seems destined for greatness. Ferran Adria (of El Bulli fame) opened Nikkei restaurant Pakta in Barcelona, while many Nikkei restaurants regularly appear on the the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
Despite its Japanese name (nikkei is a term used to refer to Japanese diaspora), Nikkei cuisine isn’t wholly Peruvian-inflected Japanese food, neither is it the inverse. For chef Juan Alfonso Urrutia of restaurant group Osaka Cocina Nikkei, Nikkei cuisine is a constantly evolving thing. “As long as you have Japanese and Peruvian ingredients, techniques and flavours, you are essentially free to move around. We can see super detail-oriented and fine dining restaurants on the top charts, while others are really casual and more commercial”, he shares.
It’s all about melding different parts of both cuisines in ways that make sense — for example, Alfonso shares that ginger, while not traditionally a native Andean ingredient, is now widely used in ceviche marinades all over Peru. Another such ingredient is wasabi, which Alfonso includes in his leche de tigre for scallops and flounder.
Other creations you might find at Osaka — whose branch in Chile, Santiago has appeared on the list of Latin America’s 50 Best — include a “chirashi” with the rice replaced with causa, a kind of Peruvian potato salad that’s also closely tied to the story of the country’s independence. Here, the causa is colored black with squid ink and topped with fresh king crab tartare, ikura, and tuna.
The wide variety of terrains in Peru also lends itself to some pretty exotic produce. From seafood, to cacao from the Amazonian rainforests, to chuno, a naturally freeze-dried potato that’s been produced since the 13th century in the Andes. At the restaurant, chuno flour is used in place of wheat flour to make Japanese tempura.
Where to taste Peruvian and Nikkei cuisine
Osaka Cocina Nikkei pop-up at NAMI Restaurant & Bar (21 – 27 Jan 2019)
Group Executive Chef Juan Alfonso Urrutia and Group Executive Itamae Rogger Quispe will be cooking in an Osaka Cocina Nikkei pop-up at NAMI Restaurant & Bar from 21 – 27 Jan. Available will be a 7-course dinner tasting menu ($188 per person) featuring dishes like chirashi black causa; nigiri topped with tuna tataki and yellow chilli leche de tigre sauce; and a dessert prepared with Andean mint granita, a tart South American fruit known as lulo, tapioca pearls, and pisco. There’ll also be Peruvian-inspired cocktails by Origin Bar’s bar manager Adam Bursik ($24 each), who will be showcasing South American flavours and spirits like the Lima-distilled Amazonian Gin.
22 Orange Grove Road, Tower Wing. Tel: 6213-4398
Helmed by the unofficial (and probably only) culinary ambassador for Peru, chef Daniel Chavez, this restaurant serves up authentic Peruvian cuisine with some serious party vibes. Expect a range of classic ceviches, rice plates, and seafood cooked a la plancha. They also have tiraditos, a dish that perfectly demonstrates the Japanese influence in Peruvian cuisine with seafood sliced sashimi-style briefly marinated in tiger’s milk.
7 Fraser St, #01-49/50 Duo Galleria. Tel: 6702-7320