Nikkei food is the fascinating collision and subsequent co-evolution of Japanese and South American cooking traditions. Geographically, you could hardly get two food cultures which are further apart. But Japanese people moved to Peru and Brazil and over the years, a mingling of these very different cuisines occurred, combining cooking techniques and incorporating varied and surprising ingredients into the mix.
Luiz Hara has long written the very enjoyable and informative blog “The London Foodie”. He’s that rare beast; a former Square Mile city financial whizz kid who chucked it all in for his passion for food. Luiz has ever since devoted his attention to the London food scene, writing atmospheric reviews which are the next best thing to dining in the restaurant itself, writing recipes and hosting a successful supperclub. Luiz’s parents are Japanese and Italian, so this is hardly surprising; he has inherited the culinary heritage of two of the world’s greatest cuisines.
Luiz lived in Brazil up to the age of 19, so was immersed in the Nikkei tradition from his earliest days. A qualified Cordon Bleu chef, Luiz knows cooking inside out. I was therefore keen to see his highly original and ground breaking book on Nikkei cooking and to give a couple of the recipes a try.
First was “A Nikkei buta no shoga yaki salad”; Pan fried pork belly and ginger with green leaves and avocado salad in a wasabi vinaigrette. The dish is a variation on a popular Japanese Summertime meal, envisaged as an all in one meal, balanced, zingy, intense and refreshing.
I cut the pork belly into chunks, it was marinaded for 15 minutes at room temperature in soy, mirin, ginger and freshly ground black pepper; very typically Japanese ingredients. The wasabi vinaigrette consisted of soy, rice vinegar, ginger, sugar, wasabi, sunflower oil and sesame oil to achieve a little hit of heat with saltiness, tartness, sweetness and ginger flavours seeping in.
I made the salad with rocket, sugar snaps, coriander, spring onions and prepared avocado covered in lemon juice to prevent it browning. I confess I left the iceberg lettuce out, because the meal was only for two, and I didn’t want to have over half a lettuce left over. I used more rocket to make up for the lack of iceberg. Apologies for not making the recipe as written, but for me, the overall result did not suffer for the slight deviation.
The onions and garlic were fried before cooking the pork with its marinade.
I wonder if I should not have used all of the marinade, because it didn’t come out looking caramelised and glossy like it does in the picture.
I confess that the dish does not look as it does in the book. Perhaps if I had reserved some of the marinade (in case I needed it later) and cooked in either on my griddle pan or under the grill, it would have been more attractive. But the taste! A spicy, fresh, flavourful dish which was simple and achievable on a weekday night, I was not disappointed with the end result! I will be revisiting this dish! A particular advantage being that it can be rustled up from ingredients bought on the way home from work with ease. A weeknight winner!
The other dish I tried was “Aubergine, pork and rice noodle salad with a zingy soy, chilli and ginger dressing”.
The pork is a pork mince “soboro”, where the meat has been cooked slowly in a combination of ginger, sugar, sake, mirin, sesame oil and soy sauce. This means the mince is tender, infused in aromatics and teeming with a balance of sweet, salty and umami flavours.
The noodles are cooked simply and then drained in anticipation of the assembly of the rest of the dish.
The deep fried aubergine sounds incredibly decadent, but it is fried whole. Once cooked, rested and peeled, it is not oily at all, meaning you have soft, yielding aubergine which is sweet and delicious.
The dressing of chilli, ginger, soy, sesame oil, rice vinegar and Asian chicken stock is a balanced set of flavours which brings the dish together expertly.
Easy to make, yet highly individual and satisfying, this was a fantastic supper dish. One we will be coming back to again and again.
This cook book has been put together with a great deal of love and care. The instructions are carefully explained with accuracy. The amounts of the ingredients expressed with clarity and avoiding all confusion. I dislike cook books where the descriptions and definitions are vague. Don’t ask me to estimate a “handful” or a “drizzling”. I bought your book because I want your help! Here, you do not have to worry; the instructions are very precise and helpful.
I particularly like the fact that there are recipes which can be achieved by beginner cooks and more challenging recipes for the more experienced and confident home cook. Often cook books try to appeal to extremes; catering only for the rookie or the master. On a weekday night, even the most accomplished and skilful home cook wants to make something easy but delicious.
You will note I did not use the F word in my first paragraph of this review… "fusion". The “Nikkei” are the Japanese people who moved away to live elsewhere (from the Japanese word “nikkijin”, as Luiz Hara notes in his introduction to the book). Luiz himself explains the reason he is reluctant to have Nikkei food seen as are mere part of “fusion” cooking: “For many food purists, fusion is anathema; and particularly in relation to Japanese cuisine…For me, Japanese cooking is among my favourites, and it would be upsetting for me if people suggested it was being manipulated without much thought. Nikkei cuisine is a byproduct of migration and adaptation, created over 100 year ago in South America. It was a cuisine created out of necessity; it is part of my family history and that of millions like me and so, unlike food fads, it is here to stay.” The fusion trend of the 1990s didn’t have tradition or history behind it, and was often ill considered and trying too hard to put together disparate cooking traditions. Forget any fusion you’ve had before. This is the real deal.
Please note that some of the ingredients you will need for dishes in this book are not standard supermarket fare (they are explained at the back of the book if you are curious). You will either need to look in a Japanese supermarket, online or, you can trust Luiz’s selection of suppliers as listed in the book. Planning ahead may be necessary, but for inventive food with such freshness and vigour, it is well worth it.
I know I am going to have fun with this cook book, making dishes repeatedly and experimenting with other recipes for the fun of it. Luiz Hara has put together a book which he has written with great care and accuracy, with inspiring pictures, helpful information about cooking techniques, ingredients and suppliers which surpasses the standard of most cook books available generally. This book is a keeper, when many cook books are a temporary fad, finding their way to the charity shop within months after purchase.
“Nikkei Cuisine; Japanese Food the South American Way” by Luiz Hara is now available from Jacqui Small Publishers.
Snigdha was sent a copy of Nikkei Cuisine by Luiz Hara by the publishers to review. However, her recommendation is a genuine one, for which she has received no incentive, financial or otherwise.