Los Angeles and its surrounding cities and suburbs are a bastion of international culinary treasures. Some of the hubs include Artesia for Indian food, the San Gabriel Valley for Chinese, Montebello for Armenian, and Westminster for Vietnamese.
What you might’ve noticed is that a new, hybrid international cuisine has also become hot here. Japanese Peruvian food – a meld of traditional tastes from the Eastern, island nation and the South American fishing-industry-powerhouse.
While the combination might appear unusual at first, the two countries share a long history, beginning in 1873, which is when Peru established diplomatic relations with Japan (Chinese-Peruvians celebrate an even older tie). Sweeping political changes, a fragile economy and the first Sino-Japanese war chased many workers from their homeland and into the arms of a welcoming job market in Peru. Along with a strong work ethic, the Japanese immigrants also brought over recipes from across the Pacific – recipes that aligned perfectly with Peru’s thriving fishing industry and the rice dishes brought over by the Spanish, some three hundred years prior.
As the Japanese presence in Peru increased, so did the influence of Japanese cuisine, which was termed “Nikkei cusine” in the restaurants and cafes that began popping up across the country. Traditional dishes like ceviche, (commonly regarded as the national dish of Peru), adopted characteristics from newly-introduced cooking styles, changing the age-old Incan method to a faster, fresher Japanese-inspired preparation.
Naturally, as these culinary mergers gained popularity across Peru, they were also packed into baskets and carried around the world. In the process, chefs have experimented with and elevated the style; most notable of these is Nobu Matsuhisa, who opened his world-famous Matsuhisa restaurant in 1987.
Read on to learn about this and the other game-changing Japanese-Peruvian restaurants that are totally en fuego in LA at the moment.
Matsuhisa: Before launching his world-conquering empire of award-winning eateries, Nobu Matsuhisa worked at a sushi restaurant in Tokyo. When a Japanese-Peruvian entrepreneur and regular customer invited Nobu to move to Peru and partner with him on a new restaurant, Matsuhisa had to improvise with new, Peruvian ingredients to substitute for familiar, Japanese ones. It was history in the making. Now, Nobu’s properties include everything from budget-priced noodle shops to his classic, high-end Japanese-Peruvian dining destinations, but the one on La Cienega is his original (his original original, in Alaska, burned to the ground shortly after it opened). Nobu made his mark with his now-famous black cod miso, but diners who are looking to go all-in (on both experience and expense), are encouraged to order the omakase (“chef’s choice”) and let themselves go wherever the chef wants to take them. 129 N La Cienega Blvd, Beverly Hills 90211 (310) 659-9639.
Osaka: A 10-year-old concept and the fourth in a group of restaurants with locations in Lima; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Santiago, Chile, restauranteur Adolfo Suaya partnered with Osaka’s original creators, Diego de la Puente and Diego Herrara to bring a little piece of Peru to Hollywood. Kristopher Keith (of Spacecraft) designed an interior – including a sushi bar and “pisco garden” – that leaves one with an impression of sometimes being in a rainforest resort, and at other times feeling as if they’re on a maritime voyage to some undiscovered island world. The menu offers an array of small bites to large plates, but the true standouts are the ceviches and tiraditos (inspired by Japanese sashimi, and utilizing fresh fish and Peruvian and Asian ingredients). The “Carpassion” is particularly tasty, combining salmon “carpaccio,” with passion fruit honey and crispy phyllo strips, resulting in a dish that’s incredibly clean and fresh, with a creamy sweetness, balanced by an addicting tang of salt. And it would almost be unheard of to go all the way to a pisco garden without ordering Osaka’s classic pisco sour. 6327 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles 90028 (323) 785-0360.
Picca: Chef Ricardo Zarate was born and raised in the colorful, culinary melting pot of Lima, Peru. One of thirteen children, he found a passion for cooking by pulling his weight and helping out around the house. That early love led him to cooking school at seventeen years old. After graduating, Zarate moved to London, where he worked in some of the city’s top restaurants – including London’s most acclaimed Japanese dining destination, Zuma restaurant. Over time, Zarate continued to hone his special blend of French- and Japanese-Peruvian fusion, and in 2009 found himself in a tiny hole-in-the-wall in a mini mall in downtown Los Angeles. That hole-in-the-wall was award-winning Mo-Chica – his very own restaurant – and an overnight success. Two years later, Picca (literally: “to nibble”) was ready to serve. Specialties of the casa include the causa: similar to nigiri sushi, but, true to Japanese-Peruvian form, served on a bed of mashed potato instead of rice. Zarate gives Matsuhisa a run for the money with his own black cod anticucho. And for the adventurous, Ricardo’s anticucho corazon will truly melt your heart. 9575 W Pico Blvd., Los Angeles 90035 (310) 277-0133.
Image courtesy of chawalitpix.