Rice colorfully dressed in brown, due to black vinegar and soy sauce, along with sparkling vegetables make a festival of different colors and flavors, like a garden from above. From these comes Peru’s very popular arroz chaufa, or fried rice.
A beautiful mixture of Peruvian and Chinese, chaufa brings together ingredients that win over the palate with their excellent combination of flavors. In addition it is relatively easy to prepare and its ingredients are easily available in the markets of Cuzco. As a result, chaufa is simply one of the favorite foods of Cuzco and of Peru.
El Comercio, Peru’s main newspaper, commented that the Chinese immigrants to Peru would prepare a dish of rice, basically fried rice, that they knew as “chow fan”. This word left their Cantonese and became the Peruvian chaufa that is so common in our ordinary Spanish when we think of food.
In addition, the Comercio claimed that many people from China who came to Peru would call people to eat by saying “ni chi fan”. This literally means “Have you already eaten?” And from it, the article related, came the Peruvian word chifa, to describe Chinese food in their country. The words from an ocean away were brought into Peruvian Spanish and are likely to never depart, given how much we love chifa.
Nevertheless, only after Peru fought the war of the Pacific with Chile at the end of the nineteenth century that Chinese people in Peru began to openly sell their food. That is when their establishments became known as chifas. They were only small rooms in which only a few customers could fit related Mr. Luís Yong, the president of the Chinese-Peruvian Association
Rice has a long history in Peruvian food, going back to the Spanish and Peruvians love it. Whenever there is rice left over from a meal at home, people use it to make up a delicious Peruvian style fried rice. Sometimes it is eaten alone, as a meal in itself, but often it accompanies the various sauces and fried foods that we eat in our region.
In Cuzco their are many options for enjoying an arroz chaufa. You can find chifas all over the city, they are almost as common as spiderwebs. You can always get a good fried rice in any of them with the different sauces they offer.
Chinese Peruvian food has become one of the country’s favorite foods. It is certainly one of ours. In Cuzco, though chifas are widespread, their food is not the same. It varies according to the seasoning and technique of the various cooks. Today many of our chifas have Asian owners who also cook up their own food. The culinary conversation between Peru and China continues in each of them.
We were thinking about a good chifa to have lunch the other day, especially a good fried rice, since there is nothing like that mound of multi-hued variety. We love it not just at lunch but also late night after we hit the bars and discotheques of our city that never sleeps. In Cuzco it now is served with pollo a la brasa, rotisserie chicken along with the normal french fries. That is how much we like it.
The talking about it just made us hungrier and we decided to visit the Chifa Sipan. Local customers as well as tourists and especially tourists from Asia often go there to enjoy Chinese food and especially an irresistible chaufa.
The Chifa Sipan is located on the small street called Q’era in Quechua. Its block is filled with business that are side by side as well as face to face. There is a lot of movement on these two blocks that are just two blocks away from the Plaza de Armas, the Main Square. On it you find hotels, hostals, bars, discotheques, and many restaurants that offer up a variety of foods. You can enjoy Peru’s coastal creole cuisine, Novo-Andean, typical Cuzco cuisine, pollo a la braza, a picantería, and of course a sweet-shop where you can find our rice with milk pudding and our picarones. Of course there is also chifa.
Chifa Sipan fills every day with clients fro Cuzco and abroad. It is very popular and recommended among tourists, especially the Asian tourists.
Sipan offers a spacious establishment with tables on a main floor and on a loft up above. It menu is also very large with a long list of Chinese Peruvian specialties. But we had been talking about chaufa and we stayed with its substantial list of varieties of chaufa that mainly varied in terms of the meats and vegetables added to the rice for stir frying. We asked for a special chaufa, tempted by its name, a chaufa with vegetables, and a chaufa with shrimp.
To drink, we asked for a pitcher of chicha morada. Even though it was prominent on their menu they said they did not have it. And so, after looking again, we settled on a large bottle of Inca Kola. It, with its sweet and light citrusy flavor was a perfect companion for this dish. Nevertheless we were disappointed in the lack of our first choice.
While waiting for our dishes of rice we studied the restaurant’s decorations. It had Chinese lamps hanging form the ceiling, and pictures of Chinese scenes on its walls. We especially were taken with the imposing image of a dragon that rose on one wall as if looking for which customer to take interest in. Just as we were contemplating that traditional Chinese symbol our plates arrived. And, we first took them in with our eyes.
The Special Chaufa looked really food. It was called “special” because it consisted of fried rice with different meats: pork, chicken, as well as a solitary shrimp. The rice was flavorful and made a good combination with the slices of meat. Furthermore, the fusion of meats made the chaufa delicious. It was not from another world but was very pleasing.
The chaufa with vegetables was also an attractive dish, with its bits of vegetables scattered throughout a planet of rice. The taste of the rices was good, and it had strips of red pepper, cauliflower, Chinese onion (green onion), mushrooms, lettuce, and slices of an egg omelet. It really was good. And, in any case, because of the vegetables it is not only attractive, it is healthy.
Finally, our rice with shrimp. The ring of orange shrimp was very attractive. However this shellfish from the coast had a somewhat strange flavor, even though they all looked fresh and were quite soft. But since we were in Cuzco, a long ways form the coast, it was tasty.
As we forked up the last of our rices we were full and satisfied with the experience of comparing and enjoying different chaufas. We clicked our glasses one last time with our Inca Kola before saying our good bye to Sipan.
Besides being a favorite for Cuzco’s nights, and perhaps the most representative food from Peru’s chifas, the one that has most deeply entered into Peruvian life, chaufa often claims a place with our other favorite food, our exquisite roasted chicken.
Ordinary Peruvian eateries now also make fried rice. They offer it as part of their menu for a fixed price lunch and for dinner accompanied by fried fish, steak or pork chop, or fried chicken. People love to eat well and arroz chaufa has now become an integral part of our traditional food. People ask for it and consume it very frequently.
In our city, chifas are usually open from midday, lunch time. People come in and fill the places to enjoy the food they prefer. Both locals and foreigners find their way in and keep this custom of eating fried rice alive.