Monday, April 22, 2024

Sushi Nikkei’s anniversary in Belmont Shore expresses such an essential part of Long Beach’s food story


The story of Sushi Nikkei is the story of not just one individual but of many: People brought to a space that wasn’t their own and learning acceptance—and it is why the Michelin-recognized food of Sushi Nikkei is such an important cog of the Long Beach food scene, particularly when it comes to celebrating the first anniversary of its second location in Belmont Shore.

And whether they score the continual crowds they get at their original location in Bixby Knolls or not, they will continue to push for success in the Shore—because their representation of Nikkei cuisine from Peru throughout the city, and not just one neighborhood, is what makes our growing food scene so compelling.

“It’s just so strange,” co-owner Daiwa Wong said at the anniversary event this past week. “Most of the people here? They’re from Bixby,” she notes, not taking offense to this but rather feeling compelled to push even further.

I am unsure where certain cultural aspects of Long Beach—and I mean this on the most local-ist of levels—begins and ends in our neighborhoods because I (for the most part) seem to always run around with rose-tinged lenses on, proudly proclaiming Long Beach vs. Everyone Else. Of course, I understand there are anecdotal, broad sentiments like the fact that the far majority below the 405 rarely visit Bixby Knolls on a regular basis and those in the Knolls rarely step into Downtown—but still could not necessarily provide answers for the pair as to why one location was “wildly,” in Daiwa’s words, more popular.

So for the owners of Sushi Nikkei—Daiwa and her husband, sushi master Eduardo Chang Ogata—there is a distinct line that they just can’t seem to blend when it comes to the patronage in the Shore, what was surely to be a guaranteed success when they first opened last year, and their dedicated, loyal patronage in Bixby Knolls.

However, that certainly has stopped them from trying to make the Shore location feel special for, well, the people of the Shore—including its anniversary menu.

If Sushi Nikkei’s one-off menu for their anniversary says anything, it is that they are dedicated to the Shore

When it comes to Peruvian food, the mighty potato reigns supreme: The country’s rugged climate allows some of the world’s most interesting varieties of the starch, now stretching into the 4,000-plus varietals. Some are best for baking and mashing, others for frying and crisping; some run gorgeously yellow or deep, almost midnight purple in color.

So to finally see a potato dish—specifically causa, a potato dish that usually consists of two layers of mashed potatoes stuffed with a meat of sorts—on the menu at Sushi Nikkei was a privilege.

And it shone bright in Eduardo’s deconstructed version, where a snake-like piping of bright yellow, silky smooth mashed potatoes were dotted with macerated bits of spiced tuna. Then drizzled was an equally silk huancaina sauce, a traditional Peruvian sauce that blends ají peppers and cheese.

There were Peruvian gyozas, nodding to Eduardo’s Japanese and Peruvian heritage, filled with shrimp and a chupe sauce that was a nod to the famed chupe de camarones chowder that is an essential part of Peruvian cuisine.

Whole prawns—encouraging customers to rip the heads off and suck them for what any seafood lover knows is the “good stuff”—lathered in Japanese butter with bread on the side for dipping.

Shigoku oysters—briny bits of firm meat that are sweeter than kumamoto—dedicated topped with a dollop of uni, offering an umami-on-umami layering that is one helluva bite of the ocean.

A Peruvian flan that proved heftier and thicker than its Mexican counterpart—and significantly smoother, like a panna cotta gone Peruvian.

It was an impressive menu—and for those that may not know, Sushi Nikkei having not just one but two locations in Long Beach alone is important for our food culture.

The importance of Latin American and Nikkei cuisine coming together in Long Beach

When it comes to Sushi Nikkei, there still remains confusion over what, precisely, “Peruvian sushi” means—and to begin, it must be emphasized that this is not fusion food but a direct product of Japanese culture flourishing in Peru.

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“Sushi is as Peruvian as it is Japanese,” Daiwa told me when we first met. “They are intertwined with the spirit of the Nikkei.”

“Nikkei” in Japanese means those of Japanese descendants, the literal span of the Japanese diaspora worldwide—and for a culture so subsumed in its own identity, with strong ties to family and geography, those outside of the island proper have had to doubly fight to maintain their sense of Japanese-ness while also assimilating to their new homes. 

The Nikkei of Peru are no exception—and through ups and downs, turmoil and struggle across a century-plus of existence in Peru, they’ve become an essential aspect of Peruvian culture itself. Chef Mitsuharu “Micha” Tsumura’s Maido restaurant in Lima—one of the leading pillars of Nikkei cuisine—sits at #6 on the 2023 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, where Peru takes not only the #1 spot with Central, but also takes #27 with Kjolle and #47 with Mayta.

To have such representation in Long Beach in a place that has expanded into two locations is not just an honor but something worthy of highlight—and something we should be supporting.

Sushi Nikkei has two locations: 3819 Atlantic Ave. in Bixby Knolls & 5020 E. 2nd St. in Belmont Shore.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.


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