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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Arco Iris (Peruvian Restaurant in Gotanda)

Of all the diasporas in the world, one of the least well known is the diaspora of Japanese people to South America. As Latin America Links has recorded: "In 1899, the Japanese government was concerned with over population and began a campaign to send Japanese to different parts of the world... 790 Japanese arrived in 1899 (in Peru) to work the sugar and cotton plantations. A significant number of them were from Okinawa..." Peru was not the only New World destination for these poor Japanese settlers: many of them ended up in the agricultural sectors of Brazil and Paraguay among other countries, all of whom were desperately short of (hu)manpower. Japanese DNA entered the racial melting pot of Latin America, but was not totally dissolved; the result is that even today distinctly Japanese communities can be found all over the continent. As the Japanese tourist Kimulog wrote on a 2006 trip to Brazil: "It was Sunday when I came to Sao Paulo first. On Sunday Sao Paulo, many stalls (Yatai in Japanese) are ranging in parks and plazas. One of them, held at Liberdage, was just like Japanese Ennichi. I could find many Japanese meals such as Yakisoba-Oobanyaki-Takoyaki-... ,and many Japanese immigrants working in stalls who can speak both Portuguese and Japanese..."

Arco Iris Peruvian restaurant in Gotanda, in the Shinagawa ward of Tokyo (Japan, 2009)
Diasporas have a habit of returning home, and in recent decades hundreds of thousands of Latin Japanese have been applying for Japanese ancestry visas, and settling in the homeland. Go to any foreigner-friendly psychiatrist's clinic or travel agency, and you will find Spanish language newspapers and magazines. I have seen census figures which show that Brazilians comprise the fourth largest ethnic group in Japan (after Koreans, Chinese and of course the native Japanese!) Those Brazilians are Nisei (second generation descendants of Japanese settlers in North and South America and other parts of the world). Peruvians are also having an impact in Japan: there is a band of Peruvian musicians who regularly make the rounds of major festivals in such places as Iriya (site of the midsummer Morning Glory festival). There is a girl who works for my boss's English school named T. who comes from Peru and looks Peruvian, although her visa says she is ethnic Japanese. My boss calls her a Nisei Japanese although she is probably not second generation at all, but third. Anyway, she wanted to introduce us to the delights of Peruvian food, which is how this adventure began.

Bland colors, excellent taste... that seems to be the dichtomy of Peruvian food
Thick slices of potato topped with egg and a winning cream, at Arco Iris (Japan, 2009)
Since the loss of my principle Tokyo food sponsor Sasaki-san due to family illness, I have been confined to eating konbini cuisine, or dining in the occasional famiri resutoran, or if I have been really desperate, cooking for myself. Now I must state here that eating convenience store meals in Japan is not the full culinary disaster that it sounds: Japanese convenience store meals are no doubt the best in the world, as my Bankstown food critic Oscar told me on a subway ride home recently (Toei Shinjuku Line, Shinjuku to Bakuroyokoyama.) Oscar said he had visited a Japanese prepared meal factory himself and reported that each meal was handmade, with stringent quality controls. Every product had its own focus group. There are usually no focus groups overseeing my home cooking but it nonetheless pleases me, although I can only basically cook a handful of dishes (that could change when I move to Vietnam.) But anyway, since the loss of my principle Tokyo Food sponsor, I have been forced to turn towards... my principal. Hiroshi Kobayashi, of Kidea Eigo Akademii. Lately he has developed a penchant for taking his staff out for dinner or lunch, and then picking up the tab. Tonight's outing was ostensibly a dual birthday celebration for two of the staff, but I suspect the real reason is that Hiroshi wanted to try some Peruvian food. (As T. had assured us, Peruvian food is much loved all over South America.) The place was the Arco Iris Restaurant near Gotanda Station. Arcoiris apparently means "rainbow" in Spanish, and the name seems fitting for the rainbow colored Japan which is slowly in the making. We took our seats, ordered some drinks, and one by one the dishes were brought out for us. Fittingly enough, potato seemed to be a major ingredient here. Boiled potato, fried potato... there was even a dish which just like fried potato and tasted just like fried potato, but wasn't potato. The first dish was T.'s favorite: circular chunks of potato topped with egg in a creamy sauce. It might have looked bland, but it was the sauce what made it. As a matter of fact, it seemed to be the sauce what made it for all of the dishes that were to follow. I drank my Peruvian beers, and conversed with the lovely blonde V., from Moscow. R. from London ordered a Moscow Mule by mistake, and passed it on to me. I'll drink anything, so I took it! There was a lot of conversation flying around the table in English, Japanese, Russian and Spanish. Presently the second dish of the evening appeared: kebabs of meat (T. claimed they were skewered cows' heart), smelling like a million dollars. I had a beer in my hand, and ¥1680 in small change to my name. Luckily Hiroshi was picking up the tab for tonight!

Anticucho (roasted cow heart on skewers) on a bed of potato.
Skewered cows' hearts, or so I was led to believe, laid atop a soft potato bed (Japan, 2009)
Chomp your way through all of those skewered hearts (which apparently are called anticucho in Spanish) and this is what you find: a veritable bed of juicy soft potatoes. Did I mention that there are hundreds of varieties of potatoes growing in Peru, in all manner of sizes and colors and personalities? In fact, some consider that Peru was the home of the potato, the source, the origin. Once again, as with the earlier dish, it was the sauce which made the anticucho great, it was the sauce which made it happen. I could be wrong but it seemed to me that there was some homeland Japanese influence to all this food, a Japanese taste -- let's call it aji. The way Peruvians talk about the word aji (which to them means "spice"), it makes me think that they imported it from Japan (where it means "taste"). I could be wrong in this, and I probably am. But it got me thinking.

What lay beneath the skewered hearts
The bed of beautiful potatoes lies exposed, beneath the skewered hearts (Japan, 2009) 
Moving away from the offal and potato theme, here is some seafood (Peru is famous for its fish, which they apparently prepare imaginatively):

Peruvian fish dish
Fish dish with salad, at the Arco Iris restaurant, near Gotanda station (Japan, 2009)
This critter here is an octopus salad:

This octopus salad could almost pass itself off as Japanese
This octopus salad ought to appeal to the Japanese palate (Japan, 2009)
Arco Iris is on the 2nd floor of the Motomiya Building (本宮ビル2F) at 1-15-5 Gotanda, Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo -- the phone number is (03) 3449 6629. A typical dining experience costs about ¥1500 per person, if you don't have a sponsor or principal to support you!
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