Did you know that Peru has a strong link to Japan? Well, now you do. In the late 1800s thousands of Japanese workers migrated to Peru to work on the railroads. Many stayed and cooked the dishes they missed from their homeland with the Peruvian ingredients they could find, cultivating what has now become known as Nikkei cuisine. Mitsuhari Tsumura, the Lima-born chef behind the fine dining Nikkei restaurant Maido, is a fourth-generation Nikkei (the term can also be used to describe Japanese emigrants and their descendants). His father is from Osaka and his mother is third-generation Japanese Peruvian. Speaking with a thick South American accent, he describes how he grew up with a mix of traditional Japanese and Peruvian dishes.
"We didn't call it Nikkei food then, but at home we might make ramen, and another night we might eat cau cau (a Peruvian stew). I don't like to call it a fusion cuisine, because fusion is confusion and there's a lot of history behind Nikkei. But the coming together of the two cuisines makes sense; soy sauce and the aji (chilli) go together so well."
Maido (meaning 'welcome' in Japanese) ranked number 8 in the World's 50 Best Restaurants list this year and was heralded as providing diners with a crash course in Nikkei cuisine through dishes such as the cau cau dim sum with sea snail or the Amazon cebiche, which uses native ingredients. Maido's rise highlights this under-appreciated aspect of Peru's history, shining a light on a cuisine that has come out of emigrants' home kitchens into world-class restaurants.