How This Japanese Chef Is Bringing Award-Winning Peruvian Flavors to Tokyo

Photo: Paul Winch-Furness

For years, foodies have touted Peruvian cuisine as the next big thing. The well-deserved acclaim is a result of the country’s rich biodiversity and bomb food. But it’s a prophecy that’s yet to be fulfilled. Through Central, the No. 1-ranked Latin American restaurantChef Virgilio Martinez has done his best to raise Peru’s gastronomic profile. However, he believes it’s Asian chefs who will finally help Peru clench the culinary crown. “Peruvian is going to be huge in Asia – maybe it starts in Japan, maybe Korea,” he told Bloomberg, adding that he works with many Asian chefs at Central. “When they return home, they’ll bring Peruvian cooking with them.”

“Peruvian is going to be huge in Asia – maybe it starts in Japan, maybe Korea.”

As the Latin American country with the second-largest population of Asian descendants, the continent’s influence on Peru’s cuisine is clearly evident in dishes like tiradito and lomo saltado. In Tokyo, there’s at least one restaurant that lends credence to Virgilio’s theory. For more than a decade, Araishouten has served traditional Peruvian meals.

After graduating from culinary school, Chef Arai Takahiro seemed on track to contribute to Japan’s French cuisine movement. Originally working under Mikuni Kiyomi, he eventually decided to take his career down another path. He felt Peru calling him, and in 2003, he made his first visit. Takahiro came to spend time with a friend who owned a restaurant, and he just fell for Peruvian food, hard.

“There was no Japanese menu. But even though I didn’t understand anything, everything that I ordered and tried was very delicious,” Takahiro said in a marca Perú video. “I was in Peru until 2004. I went to study Peruvian food. At the beginning I didn’t know the language. Along the way, I made many friendships, and when they invited me to their homes, they taught me homemade recipes.”

He also got a crash course in the country’s cuisine from famed Japanese-Peruvian chef Darío Matsufuji – who in the 1970s changed up the traditional ceviche recipe – and he developed his skills in kitchens across Peru. According to El Comercio, he traveled every corner of the South American country. He hit up Tumbes, Tacna, Iquitos, Cajamarca, Puno, Yurimaguas, Tarapoto, Pucallpa, and Puerto Maldonado.

“Frankly, I feel as though I was born [in Peru.]”

After a year of traveling, he returned home to open his own Peruvian restaurant. But he hasn’t just stopped at introducing Peruvian fare to the people of Tokyo through Araishouten. He’s also sharing his knowledge through his Peruvian cooking classes, and his two books: Choi Latin Gohan and Cocina Peruana de Takahiro Arai. A decade after opening Araishouten, Takahiro received an important culinary honor. In 2015, Michelin Guide named his restaurant a Bib Gourmand – an award that recognizes exceptional food, considered a stepping stone to the highly coveted stars.

With a “Yo amo a mi Peru” sign in his restaurant and what he’s doing to elevate Peruvian cuisine internationally, it’s no wonder marca Perú said he was “Más Peruano Que El Lomo Saltado.” When he looks back at his time in Peru, he remembers it fondly.  “To me, Peru is a place that brings back a lot of memories,” he said. “Frankly, I feel as though I was born there. That’s why I’d like to learn more, study more, and of course, eat more.”