Chifa is a term used in Peru to refer to Chinese cooking, in which Peruvian and Chinese ingredients are fused to Cantonese culinary tradition. Chinese immigrants came to Peru mainly from the southern province of Guangdong and particularly its capital city Guangzhou in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They settled for the most part in the coast of Peru and the capital city of Lima. The term “Chifa” is also used to define a restaurant where this type of food is served. Chinese-Peruvian food has become one of the most popular types of food in Peru; there are thousands of Chifa restaurants across all districts of Lima and many more throughout other cities of Peru, with sometimes multiple independent restaurants operating in close proximity on a single city block.
The Peruvian government actively promotes Chifa cuisine as an essential part of Peruvian cuisine.
As Chinese immigrants in Peru progressed economically, they imported a limited number of ingredients to be able to produce a more authentic version of their home cuisine. Additionally they began to plant a variety of Chinese vegetables with seeds imported from China. However, due to a lack of ingredients, the Chinese were not able to prepare their cuisine in the authentic manner of their homeland.
Around 1920, the first Chinese Peruvian restaurants were opened in Lima] and were given the name Chifa. The Limean aristocracy was amazed by the bittersweet sauce, chaufa rice, the soup, and other dishes of the ancient cuisine. From that moment on, wealthy Limeans became fascinated by Chifa, to an extent that in some regions of the country there are more chifas than creole (which in Peru is used to refer to the natives) restaurants.
Additionally, Peruvian chefs began to use products used in traditional Chinese cooking such as ginger, soy sauce, spring onions, and a variety of other ingredients which began to make their way into daily Limean cuisine.
There are different accounts on the development of chifa restaurants in Lima, the Peruvian capital, such as the following:
“Why is the Chinatown of Lima near the central market called Capon? Because on Ucayali Street pigs, bulls, sheep and goats were fattened to be made more appetizing. Near Capon Street there was a piece of land known as Otaiza, which was rented by a group of French free of the [indenturement] contract, free to chart their own horizon doing what they best knew how to do: cooking and merchanting (…) Capon turned into the birthplace of Chinese food and of the first Peruvian chifas, a blessing from the sky. Soon all of Lima comes to eat at Ton Kin Sen, to Thon Po, to Men Yut, and to San Joy Lao where there was even dancing to a live orchestra. (…) At one time or another, nobody knows when, Chinese restaurants began to become known as Chifa. For some this word was derived from the Chinese ni chi fan or “Have you eaten yet”. Soon later would come the dish chau fan (fried rice), and finally, chaufa, a dish that comes with almost every chifa meal.”
León, R., 2007 pp.134-136.colour
As stated, the history of chifa is deeply rooted in the development of the Chinatown of Lima, originally prepared by unhealthy or unsavoury methods, but which has become focal point in cultural, artistic, commercial, and especially gastronomic interest. Chinatown is located near Capon Street in Barrios Altos, in the Historic Centre of Lima.
Peruvian chifa is distinct, mostly due to its Peruvian cuisine influences, from Chinese food found in other parts of the world although certain aspects found in Chinese food internationally are common to Peruvian chifa such as wantons, fried rice (chaufa), sweet and sour sauce, and soy sauce. Like most Chinese food internationally and within China, rice, meat, noodles and vegetables are important staples to chifa. Chifa is enjoyed by all socioeconomic levels, as evident by the ability to find chifas directed towards those with a more ample budget and seeking a more refined atmosphere whereas chifas de barrio are directed towards a different social strata and do not have the same level of atmosphere and are directed towards consumers accustomed to the type of food which they serve. Currently, in the city of Lima there are over 6,000 chifa restaurants.
Popular Chifa dishes
- Arroz Chaufa – consists of a mix of fried rice with vegetables, usually including spring (green) onions, eggs, and meat, quickly cooked at a high flame, often in a wok with soy sauce and oil.
- Tallarin Saltado: Cantonese-Peruvian style Chow Mein
- Pollo Chi jau kai: Chicken with Chu-Hou sauce
- Pollo Tipa Kay: Chicken with Sweet and Sour sauce
- Aeropuerto: A mixture of Arroz chaufa and Tallarin saltado
- Wantan frito: Fried wonton
- Sopa Wantan: Cantonese-Peruvian style Wonton soup
- Kam Lu Wantan: Wontons stir fried with Sweet and sour sauce, vegetables and meat
- Sopa estilo chifa: Chinese-style chicken soup
- Sopa Fu chi fu: Egg drop soup
Chifas in other countries
Since at least the 1970s, Chinese immigrants had also opened chifas in neighbouring Ecuador. Chifas have also been opened in Bolivia.