After almost flying for a day and a half, I finally made it to South America. It was definitely a long time coming, and a tad overdue. Although the flights were more pleasant than I had imagined, helped by the Dreamliner on the JFK – LIM route, it was certainly trying to lose my luggage, and the only clothes in tow were my current garb. After lodging the requisite lost baggage report, I was weary traveller and made my way to the hotel to catch a few more winks before my impending meal.
The cuisine in South America is certainly making waves, with the likes of Astrid y Gastón, Central, Maido, D.O.M dominating the culinary world. That said, it was disappointing that Central was closed during my visit, but no small consolation to snag a table at Maido and Astrid y Gastón.
The first meal in Perú was at Maido, which serves Japanese Peruvian cuisine dubbed as “Nikkei” cuisine. Perú is no stranger to Asian culture, with many Chinese and Japanese migrants coming to its shores. It was certainly intriguing to experience Japanese flavours and sensibilities, whilst taking advantage of the local Amazonic bounty.
Well, without further ado, let’s get into the food. I had opted for the 15 course Nikkei experience, to truly immerse myself as a crash course into the cuisine.
We started off with an amuse of Crispy chicken skin and Pachikay sauce, the latter which resembled an intense ginger paste that one might find with a Hainanese chicken dish. The flavours were certainly rich, with the ginger cutting through the fattiness. Next was rice Senbei, roasted plantain, regional sausage, and Sachatomate emulsion. It was a symphony of flavours with the crunch from the rice Senbei, unctuous sausage, sweetness from the plantains and the hint of the Sachatomate, which is also known as the tree tomato or Tamarillo. Great start to meal with very punchy flavours, which were both familiar yet foreign.
Next, was Churos i.e. river snails with Chalaca and Dale-dale foam. The snails were cooked with Shoyu, which had a very pronounced Japanese accent to the dish. The foam was made from Dale-dale, which is like a local tuber and had a smooth texture to it. A tasty dish, which seemed to blend both worlds rather seamlessly.
Moving on was Lapas cebiche with Chullpi corn, lapas (local shellfish), avocado, aji amarillo Leche de Tigre. The Aji amarillo peppers added some heat to it, whilst the Leche de Tigre, which is typically used to cure the fish in a Cebiche (or Ceviche), was frozen with liquid Nitrogen and crushed into powder form. A very refreshing dish, with the heat and acidity definitely coming through. The acidity was definitely very pronounced, and as I would eventually discover, reflect the local Cebiches.
The subsequent dish was Paiche sandwich, which was deep fried local river fish served with a steamed bun and lulo criolla. It was redolent of the Chinese steamed buns, whilst the crispy Paiche fish added a nice crunch to the dish. A very good dish, almost like an upscaled version of a fillet-o-fish burger from McDonalds.
Moving on was a Gyoza dish with Guinea pig, served with some Amazonic ponzu. The filling inside the gyoza was definitely meaty and almost pork-like, whilst the ponzu added a nice acidity to balance the dish.
Now, to more traditional Japanese fare with an added Peruvian twist. Squid sushi served with a spicy soy glaze, which was fiery and tasty.
The paired sushi was Scallops with Chia, which had a sweet sticky sauce to accompany it. Both sushis were quite successful, and definitely a more pronounced and intense iteration from its Japanese roots.
Next, was an Amazonic Cebiche made with river prawns, pejerrey, Nikkei Leche de Tigre, Charapita, chonta and Fariña. All very novel components, but the Chonta tasted like tofu skin, prepare in the style of cebiche. A very intriguing dish, which was delicious.
This was followed by Chancho con yuca, which was pork belly stew with yuca, mishquina, crispy pork skin, ramen reduction and cocona. Flavours were quite intense, and the pork belly with yuca and crispy pork skin was just decadent, and perhaps redolent of the Chinese stewed pork dish with yam that one might find in Asia.
Moving on was Sachapapa soba with vongoles and crab. The soba was made with the local root vegetable, served chilled with vongoles and crab. The texture of the Sacha soba had a nice bite to it, whilst the sweetness from the crab and vongoles was lovely.
Now, back to Sushi. I was served a duo of sushi of blowtorch seared Wagyu beef and quail egg, and sweetbreads. Both were absolutely decadent as one might imagine, but I wished the sushi rice had more rice vinegar to balance out the richness.
Next, was a visually striking dish made with regional beans, avocado cream, cilantro, ponzu gel, crispy quinoa, and coffee crumble. It was a demonstration of textures albeit the flavours were subdued and quite one-note.
For the first main dish, was a classic Japanese Gindara with miso glazed cod, bahauja nuts, Sangre de toro potato cream. The bahauja nuts were like hazelnuts, which was toasted and sweet, and paired well with the Gindara. The Sangre de Toro was also very smooth, and balanced out with the crunch from the nuts. A very successful dish, albeit perhaps leaning towards to the sweeter side of things.
For the last main course, was 50 hour cooked wagyu short rib, egg yolk, cecina fried rice and Amazonic chilli. This was definitely the highlight of the meal, with the luxurious Wagyu beef pairing nicely with the raw egg yolk, and the cannelloni of rice with chilli. A very Japanese combination of beef with egg, as one might do with a Sukiyaki and Kobe beef, dipped in raw egg yolk. Again, familiar flavours but with a local twist.
For the first dessert, was a visually striking dish of Amador cacao (piura – 70%), yuzu, shica shica ice cream, mochis, bahauja nuts, and cacao nibs. The chocolate was rich and decadent, which was nicely balanced with the refreshing shica shica ice-cream, which is like a Amazonic coconut. The mochi and bahauja nuts added a nice texture the dish.
I capped off the meal with plantain ice cream with shoyu, Camu camu and Taperiba tapioca, crispy coconut and coconut water jelly, rice milk. The plantain ice cream was pleasant and had a subtle hint of Shoyu, whilst tapioca pearls were made with the local fruits of Camu camu and Taperiba. This was nicely paired with the smooth rice milk.
Overall, I had a very enjoyable meal. The cuisine and ingredients were definitely foreign to me, yet the Japanese elements brought some unexpected familiarity and comfort. The pairing with local Amazonic produce was certainly successful, with most dishes being delicious and rather harmonious. Service was also pleasant and attentive, with a fun, convivial vibe to the place. Definitely a must do whenever you find yourself in Perú, and to have a memorable meal. Heck, it might even cure your homesickness if you’re hankering for some Japanese fare.
Location: 399 San Martin Street, Miraflores, Lima. +51 1 444 2568. Website.