When a country wins ‘World’s Leading Culinary Destination’ four years in a row, you know it’s definitely time to pay attention. And a visit. Maybe several visits.
Peru has held that title since 2012 thanks to its wide-ranging and varied cuisine: everything from spicy seafood stews and citrus-cured ceviche to wholesome Andean soups and anticuchos skewers. Not to forget the colourful range of corn, potatoes, beans, and peppers, or much-praised but somewhat controversial quinoa. Guinea pig (known as cuy) and alpaca also appear on the menu!
Ceviche: raw fish cured and flavoured with lemon juice, chilli, and onions (eaten cold). Photo from Flickr user Krista.
Mixed in with all that is ‘chifa’: Peruvian-Chinese fusion cuisine. The names of some of the most popular dishes are themselves fusions of Spanish and Chinese words, such as arroz chaufa (stir-fried rice) and sopa wantán (wonton soup). In both cases, a Spanish word is followed by one from Chinese.
I know what you’re thinking: “What’s so special about stir-fried rice and wonton soup? I can get that from the takeaway round the corner!” Even if they are fusions by name, arroz chaufa and sopa wantán understandably come across as fairly ordinary.
Chifa, with ‘arroz chaufa’ in the foreground. Photo from Flickr user Pablo Matamoros.
While all the ‘classic’ Chinese dishes are offered, Chifa is distinguished by the way it mixes Asian and South American cooking styles and ingredients. Diners may encounter Peruvian chita fish steam-cooked with sillao (soy sauce), or juanes prepared with Chinese spices. (Normal juanes consist of rice, egg, chicken, and olives wrapped and cooked in leaves of the Calathea lutea plant – Peruvian tamales eaten on the Feast of San Juan, or Saint John.)
Lomo saltado, widely regarded as a traditional Peruvian dish, features beef stir-fried with potatoes and ají chilli peppers. It is even possible to get guinea pig rolls with sweet and spicy sauces (though pet-lovers may pass!).
Lomo saltado – photo from Flickr user Patty Ho.
Chifa developed from the mid-1800s onwards, when Peru saw a large influx of workers from China, most out of Guangdong Province (formerly known as ‘Canton’). Although the first Chinese restaurant opened in Lima during the 1920s, Cantonese cooking was already making a name for itself. As the number of restaurants grew, chifa became very much a part of Peru’s gastronomical scene.
Chifa at Aguas Calientes. This appears to use quinoa or kiwicha (amaranth grains). Photo from Flickr user erin.