With its unique blend of Peruvian ingredients and complex Japanese techniques, Maido has been heralded as one of the "World’s 50 Best Restaurants".
It is no secret amongst foodies that Peru – particularly its capital Lima - is home to a lively and exciting culinary scene. In the last couple of years this scene has caught the attention of the wider world, and it’s chefs have started to achieve fame outside of their own country. The native cooking traditions have a lot going for them. Peru is home to many ingredients not found elsewhere, and these are extremely varied thanks to its diverse natural geography. Different crops can be grown up in the mountains to those found in the Amazon jungle, and to top it off the country has a long coastline with plentiful stocks of fish. The food is also a blend of many different traditions. The native population has its own dishes, while the Spanish brought their own influences to the mix. Even the Africans brought over as slaves contributed to the fusion of recipes and ideas.
There is one other group however, who have had serious input on Peruvian food – one which you might not expect. Around the beginning of the 20th century, thousands of Japanese migrants came over to the country to work in the sugarcane fields. They stuck around and integrated into Peruvian society with one – Alberto Fujimori – even becoming president in the 1990s. They became known as the Nikkei, and when the farm work dried up, many opened restaurants where they created their own unique take on the local cuisine. Soon the name came to refer to the food itself.
While we wanted to sample everything that Peru had to offer gastronomically, we especially wanted to take some time to get the Nikkei experience. While staying in Miraflores (an upmarket suburb of Lima), we got the chance to do just that at Maido.
Maido is the brainchild of Mitsuharu Tsumura, a Japanese-Peruvian and Lima native. It is currently number 13 on the San Pellegrino list of the "World’s 50 Best Restaurants" meaning that we really couldn’t leave Lima without trying it. From the outside it is unassuming, with its boxy design and plain facade. You could quite easily walk passed it if it wasn’t for small logo on the door. The restaurant’s name means welcome in Japanese, and when you walk in the staff chant it to you to make you feel at home. As you continue through to the main dining room, you notice the sushi chefs busy at the counter, preparing the food and scurrying around determinedly.
The thing that really grabs your attention though, is the spectacular rope sculpture which hangs from the ceiling above the seating area. Parts of it are painted red, and depending on where you are sat it will either appear to be the Japanese flag or the Peruvian one. The whole place is dimly lit which gives it a romantic feeling, and they have clearly put a lot of effort into the design details. The bathroom walls for example, are covered in photos of Tsumura and the other chefs with family, friends, and diners.
As with most restaurants on San Pellegrinos' "World's 50 Best" list, reservations are tough to come by -- We were lucky to get in for a lunch seating during mid-week! You can order a la carte, but when you’re at a restaurant of this calibre you go with the tasting menu, and spring for the tasting/wine/drink menu as well! They offer a 15 course meal named the ‘Nikkei Experience’ which explores Peru’s unique biodiversity, and incorporates the best of both country’s food. Soon after we sat down the server greeted us with a tray of beautifully colored sake glasses, and allowed me to choose one from which to drink from over the meal. The waiters worked with Japanese precision, clearing the plates like ninjas and meticulously cleaning every last crumb from the table between courses, without us even realizing i!
Everything that came our way was excellent, and with 15 courses there were too many delicious things to mention them all. That said, some things stood out as extra special. One of these was dim sum stuffed with squid and sea snail and served atop potato puree. This was one of the best dishes I have ever had, and the dough (made with squid ink) rivaled anything I have tried in Italy. We also enjoyed the squid choripan, presented like a mini hot dog, and the sea urchin rice with avocado and nut powder. It wasn’t just the food which impressed though, we were given a selection of Peruvian and Japanese drinks with our lunch and didn’t even make it onto the wine until the fourth course. As well as the Japanese sake, we were given chicha – a local fermented drink made from maize – and beer.
Tsumura came out in person to meet us at our table, and he made as good an impression on us as his food had. He had a firm handshake and a strong presence, as well as being a nice guy. He gave us some tips on where to go for ceviche in Lima and seemed genuinely concerned that we have a good time. You can tell he is passionate about the food he makes, something which is also apparent when you look at his career trajectory. Having grown up in Peru and then studied cookery in Rhode Island, he moved over to Japan where he worked his way up through the ranks at a famous sushi restaurant. Having learned the craft, he returned to Lima where at just 25 he started working as a chef at the Sheraton and was put in charge of 160 people. After staying in the role for three years, he decided to leave and open Maido.
It had been a great experience, and it was easy to see why the restaurant is rated so highly. We loved the combination of the complex Japanese flavors and the citrusy Peruvian twist. Despite the food being the finest of fine-dining, Maido is a welcoming place and it doesn’t feel uncomfortable at all. If you take your food seriously then this place is a must. Even if you don’t, come along anyway and experience something spectacular.
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