Chifa is a term used in Peru to refer to a style of food produced by the fusion of creole Limean food with Chinese food brought by Chinese immigrants mainly from the southern province of Guangdong and particularly its capital city Canton in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is also used to define a restaurant where this type of food is served.Diccionario de la Real Academia Espanola, vigesima segunda edicion. Chifa Chifa has become one of the most popular types of food in Peru and has achieved international fame.
Nowadays, chifa has evolved enormously and has acquired its own personality forming part of Peruvian Gastronomy.
The term chifa may come from the mandarin jifan which means food and drink. However, the jifan etymology is highly speculative and disputed. An alternate origin of the name "chifa" is as a corruption of the Mandarin phrase "chi fan" which is supported by a similar corruption, "chaofa" in the Peruvian colloquial language, which should actually be "chao fan" in mandarin. Despite the fact that the founding element of the Andean Chinese community has been Cantonese, Mandarin words were used in the creation of the name "chifa" (as Mandarin "chi" in Cantonese is either "heg", "sig" or "yag"(colloquial pronunciation for ), a far cry from the chosen pronunciation). This is an interesting trivia that highlights the prestige of Mandarin in a 19th and early 20th century overseas Cantonese community. Similar evidence of prestige of Mandarin among the early modern period overseas Cantonese or Hokkienese can be seen in Jose Rizal's studying the language as perceived part of his ethnic heritage (who was in fact Hokkien). To employ "chi fan" (eat meal), a verbal phrase as a noun is rather crude and incorrect grammatically in Chinese. This implies a rather uneducated and informal use of a Mandarin term by the Cantonese. The lack of proper Cantonese word for "cuisine" and the lack of knowledge in Mandarin could be the cause. The similar type of overseas Cantonese cuisine is called Chop suey in North American, a culinary term nonexistent in China proper. This means overseas Cantonese cuisine, called "Chifa" and "Chopsuey" variably, lacked a common name when it was first invented.
The Chinese immigrants in Peru quickly assimilated themselves into society, adapting to Peruvian customs, while still maintaining their culinary traditions. As the Chinese Peruvians economically progressed they imported the necessary products from the home of their ancestors, China, to keep producing their cuisine. Additionally they began to plant their own vegetables becoming less dependent upon imported goods.
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, the chaufa rice, the soups, 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 restaurants.
Additionally, Peruvian chefs began to use products such as ginger, soy sauce, Welsh 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 Chinese 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."
Leon, R., 2007 pp.134-136.color
As stated, the history of chifa is deeply rooted in the development of the chinatown of Lima, originally prepared by unhealthy or unsavory methods, but which has become focal point in cultural, artistic, commercial, and especially gastronomic interest. The chinatown is located near Capon Street in Barrios Altos, in the Historic Centre of Lima.
Peruvian chifa is very different from Chinese food that is found in other parts of the world. Its integration or fusion with creole Peruvian food has given a unique taste to its varied dishes. As a result of this it is known as having an exquisite flavor, unmatched and internationally recognized as one of the best gastronomies in the world.
Chifa in Peru in enjoyed by all socio-economic 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.
Typical chifa dishes
Chaufa Rice (Fried Rice)
Kam Lu Wantan
Tipa Kay Chicken (A variant based on cuy known as Tipa Cuy)
Airport (A more recent typical dish popular in the low and mid class chifas of Lima)
Recently chifa has achieved popularity in neighboring Ecuador because of Ecuadorian businesspeople establishing chifas in their countries based on chifas in Peru. In many of these cases, the food has been imitated poorly, and could be considered a completely different style from the original. This has also occurred in Chile and in Argentina.
Chinatown of Lima
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Chifa