Words by Frances Leones
Photos by Caitlene Lee Uy
I’ve had Japanese-Filipino and Japanese-American fusion, but never Japanese-Peruvian fusion, nor did I have any idea what Peruvian food tasted like… until Nikkei.
Started by the Lorenzana family partnering with South American Chefs Juan Barcos and Christian Cejas, Nikkei’s where the elegance of Japanese food presentation meets the complex flavors of Peru.
With low lighting and cozy interiors, Nikkei offers diners an intimate experience with the cuisine. Tucked in between Wildflour and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Nikkei looks unassuming but don’t let appearances deceive you. It has dishes that will make you look at Japanese fusion in a whole new light.
Nama Bowls (Top Row, L to R: Unagi Don, Tuna Tartare Donburi, Buta Bowl. Bottom Row, L to R: Pollo Saltado Donburi, Miso Cod Donburi)
Part of Nikkei’s eclectic menu is dedicated to their rice bowls, AKA Nama Bowls. Nama means “light and fresh” and is usually used by the Japanese to refer to seafood. Ms. Monica told us that the Nama Bowls were first served in Nikkei’s BGC branch to cater to the office workers. With BGC known as one of the biggest shopping districts in Manila, it makes sense to have a menu item that isn’t as pricey as what other fine-dining establishments are offering without compromising on good taste and quality.
Miso Cod Donburi (Php 380)
My favorite is Nikkei’s Miso Cod Donburi. The miso cod’s moist and flaky with a sweet buttery flavor that goes well with the fresh cilantro salad and okra. I recommend mixing the poached egg into the rice then eating it with some cod followed by the salad or okra. It’s perfect for those who want a meal with rich flavors without making you feel stuffed.
Tuna Tartare Donburi (Php 350)
Craving raw seafood? Try the Tuna Tartare Donburi. The sweetness of the soft tuna chunks pairs well with the umami savoriness of the fried white onions. Another great choice for those looking for a light yet satisfying meal.
Unagi Don (Php 580)
Nikkei’s Unagi Don taught me that it’s best to eat unagi with accompaniments to provide a balance of flavors. The unagi’s grilled, giving it a sweet smoky flavor without being too overwhelming. The onsen egg – an egg cooked sous vide in a sauce of soy sauce, mirin, and sesame – is silky smooth with a creamy, slightly sweet taste that refreshes the palate after a bite of unagi.
Buta Bowl (Php 395)
Moving on to meatier Nama Bowls, the Buta Bowl has pork belly charsiu, nuts, and a fried egg. The pork tastes like pork barbeque – smoky sweet with an earthy savoriness – but more tender.
Pollo Saltado Donburi (Php 320)
The Pollo Saltado Donburi features chicken teriyaki, sautéed vegetables, nuts, and a fried egg. The chicken tastes smoky like the Buta Bowl but has an aromatic flavor to it as well – great if you’re looking for a lighter meat alternative.
All Nama Bowls come with miso soup and are available from 11:30 AM to 3 PM, Monday to Saturday, making them perfect for workers looking for either a new culinary experience or a hearty meal before heading back to work. Add Php 100 to get iced tea with your Nama Bowl. Add Php 80, and you get a scoop of house-made ice cream.
Executive Head Chef Richie Buenaventura takes pride in the fact that Nikkei uses local ingredients. They get the freshest fish from the market and change their menu every 3 months, following the seasons and availability of ingredients.
Nikkei Tiradito (Php 195)
Ms. Monica explained that when the first wave of Japanese migrants came to Peru, they missed their food. The problem was that they couldn’t find all of the ingredients needed in Peru. So the Japanese got creative, using local South American ingredients such as citrus fruits and chilies in their cooking. One dish combining Japanese resourcefulness and Peruvian flavors is the Tiradito, paper-thin slices of salmon sashimi with their special sauce that provides a spicy-tangy accompaniment to the melt-in-your-mouth sashimi.
Green Ceviche (Php 375)
Diners will be pleasantly surprised to taste the familiar sour and spicy flavors we Pinoys love so much at Nikkei. If you’re looking for something to introduce you to Peruvian cuisine, try Nikkei’s best-selling Green Ceviche. Chunks of raw whitefish, squid, and prawns are seasoned with a special South American seasoning called leche de tigre – a mixture of lemon juice, spices, and fish stock. It has a salty-sour flavor with a spicy kick, goes down smooth, and wakes up the taste buds. It’s a great marriage of Japanese cooking methods (sashimi) and Peruvian flavors (leche de tigre). The “green” in the Green Ceviche comes from the wasabi cream, giving the dish creaminess and the familiar burst of wasabi heat.
The Green Ceviche is a dish of many textures. With soft fish, smooth wasabi cream, crispy sweet potato strings, calamari, and crunchy canchita (grilled corn kernels), this dish is a gastronomic experience up to the last spoonful.
Background: Arroz Con Leche (Php 160), Foreground: Suspiro Limeño (Php 220)
Nikkei’s also got great Peruvian-style desserts that’ll appeal to Filipino tastes. If you like champorado, the Arroz Con Leche is creamy and chocolatey with the added chewiness from the Japanese rice used in it. If you prefer yema, the Suspiro Limeño has dulce de leche and berries to provide a sweet end to your meal.
Trying Nikkei for the first time, according to Ms. Monica, is like falling in love. You don’t know what to expect and some of the dishes’ names might sound intimidating. But once you’ve tasted the food, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how Nikkei’s taken something familiar like Japanese fusion and made it their own by incorporating new flavors. And I really did fall in love with Nikkei and its food. If you want to try a new type of Japanese fusion, then Nikkei is right for you!
Frabelle Business Center, 111 Rada, Legazpi Village, Makati,
Landline: (02) 880 – 0231, Cellphone: 0927 273 0114