Marco Werman: When Julia Child landed on the scene, a lot of people in the US considered French food exotic. But now we Americans are used to global cuisine. Northern Thai street food? No problem. Brazilian feijoada? Bring it on. Which means we should be ready for nikkei and chifa If you're guessing those are culinary styles from Asia, you're not far off. They're actually Peruvian but with serious Asian twists and food writer Steve Dolinsky is sampling them both in Peru's capital, Lima. Steve, I'm going to guess that nikkei is Japanese-based cooking. What about chifa?
Steve Dolinsky: Chifa is Chinese and the Chinese make up about 2%-3% of Peru's population, just under a million people. It's this fascinating style of cuisine I'd never seen before, I didn't know it existed in Peru. A lot of stems from Chinese immigration here after independence in Peru, kind of late 1850's to 1860's. The Chinese came here to work the sugar plantations, build railroads, tap rubber trees. They stayed and they sort of created their own cuisine based on what was available here locally. Great example of a Chifa dish is a dish called arroz chaufa. That's just fried rice, but instead of seeing it with bell peppers or pineapple or something you'd see in America, or broccoli, here they have it topped with big giant corn kernels. As you know, there's hundreds of different varieties of corn in Peru, so you'd see these big giant corn kernels embedded throughout the fried rice. Or the fried chicken we'd see in a sweet and sour chicken here is topped with maracuya, which is passion fruit sauce. So, very different mashup for the Chinese Peruvian.
Werman: What about nikkei cuisine, which is based in Japanese food. Would you find nikkei and chifa in the same restaurant or in different places?
Dolinsky: Typically, restaurants are going to be either chifa or nikkei and the nikkei, from the Japanese, they're even smaller, about one and a half percent of the population in Peru. Immigrants really started coming in in the late 1890's, again for sugar plantation work, and the Japanese would end up just staying here, marrying Peruvians. One of the most fascinating mashups I've seen is a place here called Maido; it just got ranked 7th best restaurant in Latin America. Mitsuhara Tsumura, his father is from Osaka, his mother is Peruvian, and he's got this really high end approach to nikkei cuisine. I spoke to him recently and he told me how Peru loves to absorb different cultures, including the country's best-known dish.
Mitsuhara Tsumura: Peru is like a sponge. Instead of rejecting other cultures, we have made them ours. One of the top ten dishes of Peru, which is called lomo saltado, which is a sauteed tenderloin, it's done in the wok and it has a soy sauce as the main sauce of the recipe and you think "Hey, soy sauce is not one of our ingredients? That came from China and Japan." That's almost as famous as ceviche.
Werman: Wow, that sounds delicious.
Dolinsky: Yeah, and they've also - the Japanese have influenced the way they cut fish, the way they serve fish. The seafood is so plentiful here in the Pacific and you see a lot of Japanese restaurants here and the sushi service is amazing. But at his restaurant, Maido, he'll have grilled pigeon on top of some rice, as nigiri sushi. They really employ a lot of the ingredients. In fact, the most famous Japanese chef, in America at least, Nobu Matsuhisa, has Nobus all over the world, he was here in Lima in the '70's and that really influenced his cuisine. He created things like the hamachi jalapeno, which you'd see at every Nobu restaurant now. So the Japanese and Peruvian mashup is not only fascinating but it's awfully delicious.
Werman: I was curious about that, because a lot of sushi places in this country are now trying to experiment with more local produce in their sushi but it sounds like all that kind of started down in Peru.
Dolinsky: It really did. It was really just born by necessity. The Japanese chefs would come here, they could not find a lot of the ingredients - sashimi peppers or edamame or the things that they would see back home. One of the dishes at Maido was cuy, which is the guinea pig down here. You see cuy everywhere.
Werman: I was going to ask you about that. Have they done any riffs on guinea pig yet? Deep fried guinea pig?
Dolinsky: Oh yeah. There's actually a delicious riff. Some of my friends turn their noses up and they said "You're going to eat guinea pig?" They de-bone it, first of all, and they slow cook it, they confit in its own fat and then they de-bone it, they sautee it and then the chef here serves it with yucca cream, this interesting barbecue sauce, and it really makes it delicious. They take these local indigenous ingredients and give them a little bit of an Asian spin. I've never seen anything like it before.
Werman: Steve Dolinsky speaking with us from Lima, Peru's capital. Thanks so much. Enjoy the food.
Dolinsky: You bet Marco. Thanks.
Werman: Grilled pigeon sushi - you do have to see it to believe it. We've got some of Steve Dolinsky's fabulous photos from Peru on our Instagram feed. We're at Instagram.com/PRITheWorld.