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“Nikkei Food” for Whom? Gastro-Politics and Culinary Representation in Peru





Peru is undergoing a gastronomic “boom.” The government, together with the private sector, actively promotes “its” food as an engine of growth and national unity and branding. One key component of this gastro-politics is the emergence of elite gastronomy, such as Nikkei food. Broadly defined as Peruvian and Japanese fusion food, Nikkei food is celebrated as emblematic of the nation’s immigration history and rich ethnic diversity. Today, it is arguably the most successful subgenre of Peruvian food to have made its mark in the global culinary market. How has Nikkei food “made it,” and who is behind the process? In this paper, I examine Peru’s gastro-politics in explaining the emergence and success of Nikkei food, focusing on the role of elite chefs and the Japanese-Peruvian community. Drawing on document and historical analysis, as well as field research in Lima, I argue that a key lies in how different actors promoted “their” food within the framework of Peru’s gastro-diplomacy--namely, (1) how Peru’s gastro-elites promoted Peruvian food globally, mostly through gourmet fusion food, (2) how the Japanese-Peruvian community capitalized on it by promoting Nikkei food as their own, and (3) how different actors came together in defining Peruvian gastronomy as “fusion” made up of diverse culinary traditions. Nikkei food has succeeded, partly because of its association with Japanese food, already popular in the global culinary market, and partly because of the resources and status of Lima’s prosperous Japanese-Peruvian community; but what also mattered was Peru’s gastro-politics, of how Peru’s gastronomy was promoted, by whom, and for whom.

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