food and beverage underground

Chifa off the old block

by Suzy
(Lima, Peru)

Chifa Mi Amigo take aways

Chifa Mi Amigo take aways

Chifa Off the Old Block (Peru’s take on Chinese cuisine)

When I was based in Singapore for three years, there is nothing more I thoroughly relished than the myriad mixture of Chinese food fused with diverse flavors of the Southeast Asian region- Malaysian (Perenakan), Indonesian, Thai and Vietnamese. Suffice it to say that I was singularly surprised when I arrived in Peru to find out that there are thousands of Chinese restaurants (called Chifa) just in Lima alone. No need to do the math, but from where I’ve been, I counted about an average of one Chifa per block in the city.

Comida Chifa (Peruvian Chinese food) is another unique cuisine in Peru, its origin almost legendary dating back from late 1800’s when the first Chinese immigrants came to Peru as contract workers (called coolies, mostly from Guangdong province, old name Canton). The oriental immigrants who first worked at haciendas- sugar plantations, had to adapt their food with local ingredients and came up with the fusion of Peruvian Creole and Chinese (mostly Cantonese) cuisine, thus the birth of “Chifa” (derived from “chin fa” – meaning to eat meal). Chifa then became a significant part of the country’s gastronomy. A few more waves of Chinese immigrants from Hongkong, Macau, Beijing, other cities from mainland China and Southeast Asian Chinese communities came to Peru in 1940’s, 70’s and late 90’s and made Chifa even more varied, with Szechuan, Fujian, Beijing and Shanghai influences. The comida Chifa flourished from Calle Capon, in Lima’s Chinatown, where the Chinese showcased their fares and became so popular that its ingredients are now part of everyday cooking, easily available in supermarkets.

Classics. As opposed to the Mainland’s and Asian Chinese food, the Chifa has its quaint classics such as Arroz Chaufa (fried rice) with its totally distinct flavor and color darkened with soy sauce (think blackened rice), Tallarin Saltado (stir fried egg noodles with vegetables), again sodden in soy and oyster sauce, Wantan Frito (deep fried wanton wrappers ) – distinct from typical fried egg rolls, the Sopa Wantan (wanton soup with ground pork and shrimps filling), with a big difference – the ”Masa” (wantan wrappers) here are thicker, unlike the Asian original, paper thin; Chijaukai – battered deep fried chicken in Oyster sauce, Tipa Kay – battered deep fried chicken in “salsa tamarindo” -Sweet and Sour sauce, the Kam Lu Wantan – deep fried wantan mixed with vegetables, pork or chicken and pineapple or peach slices in sweet and sour sauce, and the “Aeropuerto” – Arroz Chaufa mixed with Tallarin Saltado, sometimes called “combinado” (combined). A good cross section of Chifas are available all over Lima from budget/economy meals, typically presenting “Menus”, a set selection, where you can pick your entrée –usually Sopa or Fried Wantan and choice of main course to lavish dishes presenting both authenticity and diversity.

Some Chifas (but not all) offer the customary Chinese sweet confections but are not too popular with Peruvians as they prefer their rich Criolla desserts, thus, most Chifas serve the latter too!

Mi amigo chifa. Just around the block from my home in San Isidro, is my favorite, Chifa “Mi Amigo” (My Friend) its owners, Peru born Chinese family in fact became my pals, as I am a Sunday take-away regular. Their ”Chaufa Sam Sem Especial” is scrumptious and so is their “Tallarin Saltado con Pato” (Sauteed Egg Noodles in Oyster Sauce with duck slivers), their Sopa Wantan is so heavenly as the broth is clear -it amazes me how it could be so rich yet light and healthy! Office workers and businessmen alike deal and mingle at Chifa Wa Lok, along Avenida Angamos in Miraflores for power Chifa lunches (the original outlet is in Lima’s Chinatown). A standout up north in the residential district of La Molina is Chifa O-Mei, by far one of the poshest, offering a most authentic array.

So when in Lima, next to its Comida Criolla, a must not miss culinary treat is the Chifa, just up on any block for you!

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