Opening a restaurant was never something Peruvian-born Long Beach resident Daiwa Wong imagined. And yet, it is there, a few weeks before the opening Sushi Nikki in the Bixby Knolls neighborhood of Long Beach with her best friend turned husband, and now business partner, Eduardo Chang. The opening is part romance, part commotion, and has the potential to shake up the Long Beach dining scene. The region has long had a proud (and growing) culinary tradition of its own, but it’s never had a pair like Wong and Chang.
“Long Beach has been my home since 2014, and Eduardo’s home since he joined me in 2018,” Wong fondly says. “It’s our community, and we want to invest in it, rather than in another city.”
The opening of Sushi Nikkei marks the first time a Peruvian chef will build a restaurant around Nikkei cuisine in Long Beach. Nikkei the cuisine, derived from the Japanese word “nikkeijin” which translates to Japanese emigrants and their wider descendants, emerged from more than a century of Japanese immigration across Latin America; Today, Nikkei cuisine is most closely associated with Peru, a country in South America. Nikkei cuisine uses Peruvian ingredients – ají amarillo peppers, as well as sea bream and other tropical fish – and Japanese influence in both its sourcing and techniques to create cuisine unique to the country’s Nikkei culture. . And now that culture is coming to Long Beach in a big way.
If Wong is the architect of the community dream that Sushi Nikkei has become, it is Chang who is building the restaurant’s culinary foundations. A decorated and celebrated chef in Peru, Chang graduated from the country’s Cordontec culinary school before spending years developing his reputation as an itamae sushi chef. His first big break came at Edo Sushi Barbefore opening his own restaurant Yume, which he co-owns with his brother and high school friends in Lima, Peru. Together, the group has attracted a strong local following, even expanding to a second location in October 2021.
Chang is also a member of “Generation with cause», a movement of more than 50 Peruvian chefs who have publicly committed to maintaining the foundations of Peruvian gastronomy. Generacion con Causa is led by Gastón Acurio, chef and ambassador of Peruvian cuisine who has helped to develop authentic Peruvian gastronomy on a global scale; and Mitsuhara Tsumura, head chef of the Nikkei Maido restaurant in Lima, which is ranked number seven in the The 50 best restaurants in the world. Being a member of Generacion con Causa is an honor for Chang as much as a mandate, deliberately motivated to bring more attention to Nikkei and Peruvian cuisine around the world.
Sushi Nikkei is Chang’s first American restaurant. The menu features tiraditos, raw fish sliced Japanese sashimi-style and served with a spicy sauce just before serving. The Japanese tempura frying technique is also used to make nori tacos and sushi rolls, an ode to both Japan and Peru as well as Southern California’s strong Mexican and Japanese influence. Chang also incorporates Peruvian ingredients like quinoa in ají fish sushi and grilled scallops (or conchas brasa) on the Sushi Nikkei menu, while dabbing the finished dish with limo macha, a thick salsa originally from Veracruz.
The restaurant’s larger entrees include traditional Peruvian chifa (the Chinese cuisine of Peru) options as well as staples familiar to many diners like lomo saltado, a beef tenderloin stir-fry, potatoes, onions , tomatoes and rice. A whole fried sea bream is served with batayaki (a Japanese sauce with butter, garlic and a mix of togarashi spices), fresh cilantro and lemon, to be shared between groups. It’s all part of Sushi Nikkei’s sprawling plan to bring people together and move Nikkei cuisine forward not just in greater Los Angeles — where the kitchen has been located for years — but in Long Beach specifically.
“Long Beach is our family’s home,” says Wong, “and we’re thrilled for community members to learn about our shared heritage through the dishes that come out of Sushi Nikkei’s kitchen.”
Sushi Nikki opened Jan. 28 and is located at 3819 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach, CA 90807, keeping dinner hours 5-9 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Reservations suggested.