The fascinating story behind Peruvian-Chinese cuisine
May 13, 2016
Chinese restaurants, or “Chifas”, are a central part of Peruvian life, with one on almost every corner.
Lomo Saltado, the classic dish of beef strips sautéed with tomatoes, onions and fries is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this mouthwatering tradition.
Peruvian cuisine has had so many influences that is hard to pick out one as definitive. Waves of Spanish, French, Italian, and Japanese immigrants have all played an important role in the literal melting pot of our food-obsessed nation’s rich culinary culture. So too, of course, have the indigenous peoples of the Amazon, Andes and coast, along with the Afro-Peruvian legacy stamped on so many dishes here by black slaves and their descendants. But if there is one influence that stands out then, perhaps, it is the Chinese.
The first wave of Chinese immigrants came to Peru in 1849, “coolies” or indentured servants needed to plug the labor gap left by the imminent abolition of slavery. For most, the risky and grueling four-month journey across the Pacific culminated in a life of seriously hard toil for little to no reward here in Peru. But in their camps, the Chinese maintained their culinary traditions while also teaching the locals a thing or two about cooking. With them came ingredients that are now central to the Peruvian kitchen, including ginger and soy sauce. They also introduced woks to our nation and by the turn of the 20th Century, having a personal Chinese cook was all the rage among the Lima elite. Now “chifas”, as Peruvian-Chinese restaurants are known are as common here as burrito bars in the United States or Indian restaurants in the United Kingdom.
Many chifa recipes vary only subtly from their Asian roots. Some are more radical, such as the Peking guinea pig sometimes served at Astrid y Gáston, the Lima restaurant that launched Peru’s culinary renaissance back in the 1990's, replacing the duck of the original with the rodent that is an Andean staple. But if there is a single dish that sums up Peruvian-Chinese cuisine, then it is lomo saltado, tenderloin strips wok-fried with slices of tomatoes and onions, French fries and a dash of soy sauce, served with white rice. Lomo saltado is often one of the first Peruvian classics that visitors try yet few are aware of its fascinating Chinese influences.
To dine at one of Lima’s top chifas as part of your unique, individually tailored itinerary, contact the Peru Empire Company at firstname.lastname@example.org or on +51-1-700-5100 or, if you are in the US, 347-713-7030/34.