Growing up, the answer to where are we going for dinner was almost always ¡Vamos al Chifa! — where we enjoyed sharing a meal, family style. Today, it is impossible to talk about Peruvian cuisine without mentioning the Chifa, or the fusion of Peruvian and Chinese foods. In 1849, when Pisco arrived in San Francisco during the Gold Rush, the first 75 Chinese immigrants arrived in Lima1.
It is estimated that by 1874 that number grew to 90,000 and both their language and food quickly became part of Peruvian culture2. The word Chifa is unique to the Peruvian vocabulary, and is thought to be derived from the Mandarin “chi fan” which means “to eat”. Though the first Chifas started on Capon Street in Lima’s Chinatown, now there are thousands all over Peru.
Two key ingredients in Peruvian-Chinese cuisine are ginger and soy sauce. So much so, that instead of using the proper spanish words jenjibre and salsa soya, Peruvians use the terms kion and sillao which are likely phonetic corruptions of original words in Mandarin or Cantonese.
A perfect example of a Peruvian-Chinese fusion dish is Lomo Saltado—a beef stir-fry with aji amarillo, kion, sillao, onions, tomatoes, and french fries that can be found at any Peruvian restaurant all over the world. It’s no surprise that when I try a new Peruvian restaurant, I almost always order the Lomo Saltado. There is something very familiar about its smell, its taste; quite simply, it reminds me of home.
1. Historia de la Republica del Peru, Jorge Basadre
2. 500 Años de Fusion, Gaston Acurio