By Elizabeth Greenberg, Staff WriterWelcome back! Last month I gave you a taste of the ways that Chinese cuisine could change worldwide and told you about India's Chicken Manchurian and date pancakes: this week I hope you'll take an extra helping of information about Peru's chifas. Peruvian chifas
By Elizabeth Greenberg, Staff Writer
Welcome back! Last month I gave you a taste of the ways that Chinese cuisine could change worldwide and told you about India's Chicken Manchurian and date pancakes: this week I hope you'll take an extra helping of information about Peru's chifas.
In 1850, the first Chinese immigrants came to Peru from Macau to work at sugar plantations, followed soon after by immigrants from Guangdong Province. As in the United States, the new immigrants proceeded to open up restaurants and laundries. Peru now boasts the largest Chinese population in South America and is famous for its Chinese cuisine. Peruvian Chinese restaurants, or chifas, are ubiquitous in the country—one writer describes seeing a chifa about once a block. The word chifa derives from the Chinese word for 'to eat,' 吃饭, or chīfàn.
Authentic Chinese cuisine can be found in the Chinatown in Lima, Peru. However, like virtually all Chinese cuisine worldwide, most Chinese cuisine in Peru has adapted to local flavors and ingredients. Peruvian Chinese food shares some staple ingredients such as soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and scallions (in Spanish called cebollita china, or "little Chinese onion"). The similarities end there, though. In fact, American blogger Tom Pellman wrote, "...the food at most chifas tastes more similar to Chinese restaurants in the US than in China (i.e. more meat, less vegetables, sweeter, less oily, and, of course, fortune cookies).”
Despite Pellman’s words, chifa dishes have a distinctive Peruvian twist: for example, many recipes for the popular Chicken Chijaukai include a breading made of harina de chuños, an indigenous flour made from freeze-dried potatoes, or a sauce made partly from pisco, a liquor made in Peru. Other popular dishes include Kam Lu Wantan (deep-fried thick-wontons in sweet and sour sauce with vegetables, meat, and pineapple or peach slices) the ever-present chaufa, a soy-drenched fried rice whose name comes from the Chinese for "fried rice" (we in the States use this corruption too—"chow mein" comes from the Chinese word for fried noodles), and the charmingly named Aeropuerto, or Airport, made of noodles and rice.
Peruvian Chinese cuisine is so famous throughout Latin America that it has been exported to several other countries, including Ecuador, Argentina, and Chile. However, typical Chinese cuisine in those countries is slightly different from that. One of the most popular Chinese dishes in Ecuador, for example, is chaulafan, which as the name might suggest is another version of fried rice. However, this dish is heavier on the meat and is spiced with burnt sugar. In Argentina, Chinese supermarkets can be found every other block, but restaurants are comparatively rare.
Best Restaurant Worldwide?
The most famous chifa in Peru is El Restaurante Royal in Lima, where, according to Jennifer Lee of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles fame, "you can rub shoulders with Peru's television personalities and politicians." The restaurant opened in 1995, and features high-end dishes such as shark's fin and pigeon alongside chifa classics. Like most chifas in Peru, its desserts are primarily Peruvian standbys like tres leches cake. Restaurante Royal also has dim sum and a lunch buffet.
Hope you’re hungry next month for more, because we’ll be heading to a country whose cuisine is more famous for Weet-Bix than woks: Australia.