There is nothing more delicious than good Peruvian food. This exquisite cuisine offers a wide variety of beautifully created dishes, ranging from ceviche, to anticuchos, to aji de gallina, to picarones. But many times, one very important addition to this range of authentic Peruvian food is overlooked… Chifa (Peruvian Chinese food). My first time hearing about chifa manifested some confusion in me. I thought there was nothing more random than the thought of over 9,000 popular and trendy Chinese restaurants lining the streets of Lima. But as a matter of fact, Chinese culture and cuisine is actually a deeply rooted (though too often forgotten) part of Peruvian history.
In the mid to late 19th century, due to the labor shortage after the termination of slavery, tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants came to Peru to work on the sugar plantations and mines. Although, most were severely exploited as workers, some Chinese Peruvians were able to profit from the general public’s growing interest in Eastern culture by starting chifas—restaurants that serve typical Chinese food made with South American ingredients such as pineapple and aji amarillo. Because of the abundance and widespread popularity of these chifas, Eastern influence eventually found its way into traditional Andean and coastal dishes, and over time, chifa emerged as a new kind of authentic Peruvian food.
For example, it is nearly impossible to look at a menu at any Peruvian restaurant anywhere in the world without seeing either lomo saltado (stir fry with french fries, vegetables, and meat), or chaufa (basically the same thing as fried rice). Unlike in the U.S., where Chinese food is considered to be “ethnic” or “international,” chifa has integrated so much with Peruvian food that it has become, in itself, Peruvian.
My grandma likes to joke sometimes that just like there is nothing more American than apple pie, there is nothing more Peruvian than wonton soup. The food that was served at my family reunion in Lima? Chifa. The restaurant we went to meet my Peruvian uncles? Chifa. How about the meal before my cousin’s Peruvian wedding in Miami? You guessed it, Chifa. Looking back, it almost seems like my Peruvian relatives consume more sweet and sour chicken than aji de gallina, more fried rice than arroz con pollo, and it really makes me rethink my previous notions of what “authentic” actually means.