Nikkei Cuisine has slowly been taking over Buenos Aires in recent years. Unsurprisingly, it has also been spreading like wildfire throughout the rest of the continent. If you look at Latin America’s latest ’50 Best’ listing, you’ll find that Mitsuharu Tsumura’s restaurant, Maido — a Nikkei institution — was ranked second.
In Buenos Aires, the concept of Nikkei cuisine was introduced a little over 10 years ago. In that time, it has been interpreted in a whole host of ways, some — let’s just say it — more interesting than others. As with anything fashionable, Nikkei cuisine has sometimes been a victim of its own success. Its essence has often been modified in order to appease the local palate, whilst sometimes the term Nikkei has simply been used to enhance an eatery’s signboard.
But what exactly is Nikkei Cuisine? Some tend to quickly associate it with sushi; a Latin American adaptation perhaps. Truth is, Nikkei is one of the four major cuisines of Peru. It originated in the middle of the 20th century, when a significant wave of Japanese immigrants started settling in the country. Rodrigo Ferrer, manager of the sushi bar at Osaka Palermo — one of the major institutions in Nikkei Cuisine in the Southern Hemisphere — explained that the term “Nikkei” is used to designate a person of Japanese origin born in a different country. Head Chef at Osaka, Eddie Castro, likes to think of Nikkei on a wider scale. “Nikkei can be thought of as a merging of Japanese techniques, Peruvian cuisine and the local ingredients you get wherever you are”, he told The Bubble.
Jann Van Oordt, Head Chef at Parú, which offers a rather modern and more accessible approach to Nikkei, chose to work with this style over 10 years ago. One of the things that appealed to him and his associates the most was the healthy aspect inherent in this cuisine. To them, the use of quality fish and seafood was a far better alternative to what the local gastronomy usually offers (beef, beef and more beef). Nikkei, he believes, became a trend in town partly because of this. “People started to realize they could go out for dinner without having to compromise their health or dietary preferences” they told us.
Younger and newer places have adopted the concept of Nikkei mostly because of the creative exploration it offers. This is the case of Fabric Nikkei, a recently opened bistro in the heart of Palermo Hollywood, the newest addition to the already large Fabric Sushi Group.
“Our goal is to maintain tradition, but with a newer, more innovative and creative perspective” Pablo Dayan, director at Fabric told The Bubble.
There’s a Nikkei place for everybody
The place should be considered the eminent Nikkei option in Buenos Aires without a doubt. Osaka was among the first to introduce the concept. Throughout the years, it has managed to preserve the quality of both the food and service. Often referred to as one of the best restaurants in the city by the local audience, this is definitely the place to go if you want to go all in with Nikkei. Their menu has been conceived as a three stage path, taking you from the raw and cold dishes like Ceviche or Tiradito (try the wasabi infused versions for a radical approach) all the way to the warm preparations such as their Octopus Anticucho. Right in the middle are the Sushi options. Don’t leave the table without first trying the “papada” sashimi. You won’t regret it.
This restaurant, once located in Palermo, now placed in the quieter area that is the crossing of Pampa and Figueroa Alcorta, has a younger vibe, but still manages to keep the place feeling homey. The service is outstanding: the attention is warm, and the staff is always keen to explain every item on the menu. The food stays loyal to the Nikkei concept whilst also offering a more accessible pricing. The cocktail bar is quite good, don’t be afraid to ask what could go better with your food choice. They’ve got you covered.
Sipan is one of the oldest players in the Peruvian-Japanese movement in Buenos Aires. Their success was such in the early years that it was appointed best Peruvian Restaurant in Argentina. Nine years later, Sipan has become a sort of classic. Its Palermo branch is also a Ceviche Bar, which makes ordering any of their varieties a must. We highly recommend the Sipan version, as it gives the clásico an interesting twist by adding ají amarillo. Interesting things happening at the Pisco Bar as well. Let the bartender surprise you. If you also get lost among the many Nikkei terms, go to the back of the menu where you’ll find all the necessary info.
When you go around town asking about Nikkei Cuisine, anyone with a little knowledge on the subject will immediately mention M Palermo. The man behind the Sushi Bar, Ken, seems to be a legend among Nikkei lovers. The freshness of the product and originality of their creations have been charming the palate of many sushi connoisseurs in the city. A special mention must also go to their Tiraditos and ceviches. Plus, word is the service is great.