Growing up in Peru’s rich and colorful culture, Diana Delgado DesRoches’s favorite pastime was helping her mother in the kitchen. DesRoches says Peru’s geography plays an important role in their cuisine, providing a variety of ingredients and styles–native foods such as quinoa, 3,800 different types of potatoes, mate, maize, goji berries and chili peppers such as aji amarillo and panca.
Diana’s roots, a Japanese mother and Peruvian father, gave her family kitchen a fusion that will be new to most tasters here. This Japanese-Peruvian cuisine debuted in food wagon form in January on Kamehameha Highway near the Rocky Point beach access on Oahu’s North Shore. Diana runs the wagon, called Nikkei, with her family.
Nikkei is a term that refers to any Japanese descendent that lives outside of Japan and adopts a new culture. Japanese immigrants arrived in Peru as contract plantation laborers in the late 1800s and stayed on beyond their contracts to settle. Today, Japanese-Peruvians are a flourishing and sizable community in Peru. The artwork on each side of the food wagon celebrates this hybridization with a samurai on one side and an Inca on the other.
Nikkei serves made-to-order plates that embody this fusion. Using fresh, local (when available) ingredients, the plates feature the dominant flavors of Peruvian food such as chilies, cilantro, garlic and onion, balanced with the dominant flavors of Japanese food–ginger, vinegar and shoyu.
The menu offers cold dishes of seafood and salad as well as hot dishes that can mostly be likened to stir-fries. Raw fish is where the Nikkei culinary genius shines. Ceviche is a typical Peruvian dish using white fish, and Nikkei’s features fresh, local fish with red onions, cilantro, aji amarillo (Peruvian chile) and plenty of lime juice. When you order the ceviche, called Tiradito Aji Amarillo ($9), they cut the fish, onions and limes to order, and serve the dish with sweet potato and corn. If DesRoches is at the window, she will remind you that ceviche is meant to be eaten right away–the longer you wait, the more the lime juice acid cooks the fish.
The Tiradito Nikkei ($10) features sashimi-like cuts, only thinner. The fish–usually ‘ahi–is served over lettuce with your choice of a spicy aji amarillo creamy sauce or Nikkei Sauce (a more traditional Japanese flavor) sprinkled with ume furikake and togarashi. Other cold dishes include Solterito Salad ($7) comprised of tomatoes, queso fresco, red onion, corn, cilantro, lime juice and an olive oil drizzle, and Kyuri Salad ($6.50) with lettuce, tomatoes, kyuri (Japanese cucumber) and bean sprouts, served with the special Nikkei dressing.
Highly recommended by regular Nikkei patrons is Wok Rice ($7-10 depending on your protein choice), served as a large enough portion to either share or save for a second round. Peruvian rice, egg tortilla, green onions, red onion, red bell pepper, ginger, shoyu, oyster sauce and sesame oil are the base for your choice of chicken, shrimp, New York steak or fish. The flavors are bold and heavenly without ever being too rich.
Another must for the adventurous palate is the Shrimp Seco ($10), in which shrimp and stir fried red bell peppers ignite with garlic-cilantro sauce and beer base over Peruvian rice. Served with a side salad, this dish truly makes one feel like they’ve never had shrimp so light and zesty.
Diana’s mother, Luisa Jitsuya Delgado, cooks with her in the wagon and says they put a lot of pride into the food because they enjoy cooking for others and believe in a healthy lifestyle. Diana’s brother, Daniel Eiji Delgado Jitsuya, is credited as the executive chef and creator of the wagon’s menu. He started the famous Osaka restaurant in Peru and continued to open chains in Argentina, Chile and Mexico. Later, he opened another restaurant called M, in Argentina and has other restaurant projects in the works there.
“There’s nothing more rewarding than a happy customer who truly enjoyed our cooking,” Diana says. “Our ingredients are from family-owned businesses and my husband’s farm. Eventually the goal is to have my husband grow every ingredient and create a circle. For fish we go to Pier 38, and if a friend catches fish, they will call us.”
The food wagon is more than a dream come true for her; it’s been a reunion for her and her mother. “My mom had been trying [to move here] for a very long time, and something always came up,” Diana explains. “Finally this food wagon idea made my mom’s move to beautiful Hawaii a reality.”
“We are happy to be here in Hawaii and finding such a special clientele who have open minds and are eager to experiment with different kinds of foods,” Diana says.
Eager experimentation is definitely the demographic you will find: Nikkei is usually flanked by surfers cruising on their tailgates eating their meals, local families picking up their lunch or dinners to take home, and curious tourists grabbing a one-of-a-kind meal for their beach picnic.
Nikkei’s Peruvian-Japanese food hits the spot with surfers.
Peruvian-Japanese on the North Shore