Since the nineteenth century Chinese have prepared food on Peruvian soil. As a result, Chinese cuisine in Peru is complex and has both specific and diffuse boundaries.
Just as the Chinese immigrant population married locals and blended in to the mass of coastal Peruvians, so too some dishes such as the wonderful lomo saltado stir fry combine Chinese and Creole influences. It became main stream and stands as one of the premiere symbols of Peruvian cuisine.
Nevertheless, a whole range of cuisine still stands set off behind a wall, the category chifa, as dishes considered Chinese more than Peruvian, even though they too have Peruvian influences. Chifa is restaurant food. Few Peruvians make it at home. Furthermore, this cuisine has been constantly nourished by cooks from China, especially from the area of Guangdong, also called Canton from where the majority of Peru’s immigrants also came.
Despite the knowledge these cooks bring, in Peru they must adapt to the ways Cantonese food has developed in Peru.
Like in other countries, such as in the United States, a code has arisen of dishes clients expect to find in a chifa. Pity the cooks who do not provide what the clients want.
As a result, in every chifa in Peru you expect to find featured fried rice—arroz chaufa—as a main dish, and not simply an accompaniment.
You will also find a sweet and sour dish, especially a sweet and sour chicken. Poultry is more popular than pork for this concoction. However this dish is generally not called by the Spanish terms pollo agridulce. Instead Peruvians have learned to use a Chinese name tipakay.
Similarly you will find a chicken stir fry using a brown sauce based on oyster sauce that is called chijaukay.
These three dishes—arroz chaufa, tipakay, and chijaukay—are at the core of chifa cuisine in restaurants large and small throughout Peru.
Here is a recipe for one latter two, chicken chijaukay, translated and slightly corrected from a booklet widely sold on the streets of urban Peru for people to make the dishes at home .
The dish is both similar to and different from the ways in which Chinese cuisine developed in the United States and elsewhere outside of China
You will note that the dish tends to be simple, chicken in brown sauce, without stir fried vegetables that, no doubt, would take away from the chicken which is the most liked and demanded of the ordinary meats in Peru. Furthermore, the dish is direct in that the condiments are straight forward and also simple. Unlike other recipes, there is no ginger and fewer additions to the sauce.
1 Kilo boned chicken
4 Tbsp chuño (potato starch—or you can substitute corn starch)
4 Tsp salt
1 tsp ajinomoto (monosodium glutamate)
40 grams fan si (Chinese noodles) fried in abundant oil and cooled to sprinkle over the dish)
For the sauce
2 Cloves garlic, ground or finely minced
2 Cups chicken stock
2 Tsp salt and ajinomoto (monosodium glutamate)
2 tsp soy sauce
4 Tbs oyster sauce
4 Tsp chuño (potato starch or corn starch if you wish) diluted in cold water
1 Tbsp sesame oil
Sprigs of cilantro to decorate the finished dish.
Season the chicken with the salt and ajinomoto. Sprinkle the chuño over it coating the pieces equally. Steam the chicken for five minutes. Afterwards, remove it from the steamer and fry it in abundant oil until it is golden. Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces.
In a pan make up your sauce by frying in oil the ground garlic and add the oyster sauce, soy sauce, and broth. When it boils add the chuño (potato or corn starch) diluted with water little by little, sprinkling it like rain. Check for seasoning, adding salt and ajinomoto to taste. Let the sauce thicken. Now add the sesame oil.
Pour the sauce over the chicken, decorate with the fan si fried noodles and sprigs of cilantro. Serve with rice. Peruvians generally have fried rice but you can also enjoy the dish with white rice.
Translator’s note. This is a basic recipe. You will find more elaborate recipes in Spanish on line, such as this one from Yanuq.
Sabroso Recetario Chifa: Saboree las Delicias de la milenaria cocina oriental (Lima, Corporación Chirre, S.A., no date) .