--Chef Mitsuhara Tsumara in Nikkei Es Peru (with Josefina Barron)
Last October, I reviewed a Nikkei cuisine cookbook, lamenting that there weren't any local restaurants which focused on this cuisine. Well, that has changed and it's time for you to explore this fascinating and delicious cuisine. At Tico, Chef Michael Schlow is now offering a special, late-night Nikkei menu, showcasing the fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cuisine. This new menu is served Thursday to Saturday, from 10pm-1am.
However, the first step is to explain the nature of Nikkei cuisine as many people may not be familiar with this cuisine, even though it is starting to become more popular around the world.
The term Nikkei derives from the Japanese word nikkejin and basically refers to those Japanese who migrated overseas and all of their descendants. As its most basic, Nikkei cuisine is "the cooking of the Japanese diaspora." It will thus vary dependent on where the Japanese settled as they adjusted and modified their cuisine, using different local ingredients and cooking styles. As many Japanese immigrated to South America, especially Brazil and Peru, Nikkei cuisine developed in these countries over more than one hundred years. During this time, the cuisine has evolved, merging the best of the two cultures, and it continues to grow and evolve.
Chef Mitsuhara Tsumara, who was born in Peru and is of Japanese ancestry, owns and operates Maido, one of the most famous Nikkei restaurants in the world. Tsumara and Josefina Barron co-wrote the book Nikkei Es Peru, which provides plenty of fascinating information on Nikkei cuisine, including numerous recipes. A few quotes from the book will illustrate some of the reasons why Japanese and Peruvian cuisine mesh so well together, especially because of their contrasts.
"Peruvian and Japanese cuisine work together in perfect harmony. Micha says it’s down to fundamental ingredient pairings, “chili with soy is the perfect combination - if you think about the DNA of a cuisine, it’s the foundation of a cuisine - like tomato and olive oil.” arguing that this, alongside the fact that Peruvians and Japanese both eat lots of rice, has helped the country’s flavours marry in the kitchen."
"Peruvian cuisine is bold, very bold. Perhaps the fact that they were different—opposites, in fact—created this dynamic, the pleasant surprise which every diner seeks when hunting for new flavors. For example, dashi (preserved bonito fish and kelp soup stock), a fundamental pillar of Japanese cooking, helped balance the intense Peruvian seasoning. The ají pepper, with its boldness, put a little spice into the calm of Japanese flavors. Japan brought the white rice, free of salt and garlic, as a true companion to Peru’s fieriness. A counterpart or counterpoint, much more necessary than accessory."
As such, you might expect many Japanese/Peruvian Nikkei dishes to be spicy, yet that spice will be more subtle and less bold than if you were enjoying Peruvian cuisine alone.
"One aspect that Micha makes sure to emphasize is that Japanese cuisine is diametrically opposed to ours in terms of portions. Peruvians have gotten used to mountains of cau cau, heaping plates of lomo saltado, plenteous bowls of crab chowder, preponderant lion’s helpings of tacu tacu. Nikkei cooks helped us to understand that less can be more: that we can appreciate the true flavor of a grunt as long as we don’t overwhelm it with sauces; that cilantro, cumin, chili pepper, and onions are better in moderation, thoughtfully used."
This fusion of cuisines almost seems designed for small plates, to enjoy smaller portions rather than an abundant platter of food.
"Japanese cuisine is sober, while its Peruvian counterpart goes heavy on the seasoning. Finding a middle ground signified the birth of Nikkei cuisine."
Does Chef Schlow's new Nikkei menu conform to these concepts?
Doretta Taverna & Raw Bar, a Greek restaurant. And now he is expanding his culinary repertoire by offering a Nikkei menu at Tico. What inspired him to venture into this new area? Chef Schlow stated that he has always been a fan of Nikkei cuisine, as well as Chifa, Chinese-Peruvian cuisine. The combination of Peruvian and Japanese techniques and ingredients speak to him, opening up much room for creativity. He also indicated that he has been studying this cuisine for quite some time, having visited various Nikkei restaurants around the world, including in Lima, Peru. One of his favorite spots is Chotte Matte in London, noting he could eat there every night. Besides enjoying the food at these restaurants, he also asked plenty of questions, to further his education about this cuisine. In addition, he has read a number of Nikkei cookbooks for more knowledge and inspiration.
It seems to me that this has been a long-standing passion within Chef Schlow and he finally has the opportunity to showcase Nikkei cuisine. I'm hoping that this late-night menu leads to something more, maybe even a Boston-area restaurant dedicated to Nikkei cuisine. This is a cuisine that should appeal to many people and could do well in the Boston area.
Currently, the Late Night menu has 11 Nikkei cuisine options along with 7 cocktails which have been specially create for this menu. As an aside, the Late Night menu includes a single non-Nikkei item, the famous Schlow Burger from Radius. Most of the Nikkei offerings are small plates, which can easily be shared, and only two dishes are large-sized, including the Homemade Noodles and Boneless Fried Chicken. Almost all of the dishes range from $7-$12, except for the Boneless Fried Chicken at $16, and the Cocktails range from $12-$16.
I was invited as a media guest to check out the new Nikkei menu and I sampled all of the various dishes. Overall, I was impressed with the dishes, finding intriguing combinations of flavors and textures. Chef Schlow certainly understands the role of texture and how it can elevate a dish. As both Japan and Peru treasure seafood, it was great to see that Schlow's seafood dishes were stand-outs. The Nikkei dishes will seem familiar in some respects, except that you'll realize than are some exotic touches as well.
I also concluded that Schlow's Nikkei dishes generally conformed to the quotes I provided earlier from Nikkei Es Peru. Many of his dishes were spicy but the heat was more subtle, often slowly building up over time as you enjoyed more and more of the dish. Portion size was mostly limited to small plates, ample enough to share but without making you overly full too quickly. The flavor combinations worked well, an excellent merging of Japanese and Peruvian ingredients.
It is also important to note that the Nikkei menu is only three weeks old so some allowance must be given for its newness and it could see some minor changes in the near future. I highly recommend that my readers check out this new Late Night Nikkei menu and experience the delights of Japanese/Peruvian cuisine. I'll be returning as well, to enjoy more of these dishes. Let me now describe all the dishes and cocktails I tasted.
P90X ($14) is kind of a Manhattan variation, made with Bulleit Rye Whiskey, Lustau PX Sherry, and Angostura & Orange Bitters. The spicy rye stood out, with a mild sweetness, some mild berry notes and orange accents. It lacks some of the herbal notes you get from Vermouth. Maybe the sweetest of the cocktails was the Harmonious Dragon ($16), made with Pierre Ferrand Cognac, Bigalet China China, Oolong Tea, and Fresh lemon though it wasn't overly sweet. It was nicely balanced with herbal notes and a rich, mouthfeel.
On the flip side, the tartest drink was the You, Me & Boshi ($12), made with Sake, plum, and fresh lemon as well as containing a few pickled plums. Dry and very sour, it had a pleasant taste but prepare to pucker those lips. The biggest and boldest cocktail was the Land of the Rising Sol ($14) made with Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky, Manzanilla Sherry, Pistachio, and Black Walnut Bitters. Bold flavors, with a little sweetness, a nice briny element and nutty notes. Quite a delicious and intriguing cocktail, and highly recommended.