La investigadora de ICLAC fue consultada para un artículo en The Washigton Post sobre la historia detrás del tradicional plato peruano Arroz Chaufa, donde comenta cómo las condiciones en las que llegaron los primeros trabajadores chinos a Latinoamérica influyeron en la creación de la llamada gastronomía Chifa
Por: The Washington Post / 25 de agosto de 2023
Chaufa, Peru’s beloved fried rice, tells a tale of Chinese resilience
In Peru, it is said that any self-respecting Peruvian will have an Inca Kola, a popular soft drink, with their arroz chaufa. The combination represents a fusion inherent to the country’s cuisine, whose diversity is bolstered by a centuries-long history of migration.
A fried rice dish, chaufa has roots stretching back to waves of Chinese migration to Peru in the 19th century. With them came their culinary traditions. Chaufa developed to fill the need for cheap food made quickly with available ingredients while the immigrants worked under terrible conditions in agriculture and construction.
When Ricardina Leon moved to Peru from Hong Kong in the 1970s, she remembered finding it “amazing” how Chinese and other Asian communities “were integrated into the culture.” Her grandfather on her dad’s side had moved to Peru in 1910, joining the growing Chinese community, and all her paternal family lived there. When her father, who had moved from Peru to Hong Kong, retired from his government job, he took the family back to Lima.
Her mother, originally from China, decided to open a restaurant selling chifa cuisine, a term that refers to the fusions of Chinese food cooked and popularized in Peru by the country’s large Chinese community.
“We felt fully integrated in South America,” Leon recalled of the brief time her family spent in Peru, where she said they felt less of a push to assimilate than when they later moved to Los Angeles. In Peru,“the businesses’ owners were the locals or the Chinese.”
In the United States, fried rice would be found only in Chinese restaurants, rather than across the dining landscape as it is in Latin America, she said. That’s why Leon decided in 2020 to open Chifa, a restaurant she created alongside her brother, designer Humberto Leon; her husband, John Liu; and her mother, Wendy Leon. The Los Angeles restaurant offers a modernized take on traditional chifa dishes.
Chaufa is easy to prepare: All you need is rice (preferably a day or two old), eggs, soy or oyster sauce, some vegetables (often green onion and peppers) and some sort of mix-in. Depending on what’s available or affordable, these mix-ins can include beef, chicken, pork, seafood or even hot dogs. It can be cooked in a wok, but a typical skillet will do the trick. Rice can be replaced with quinoa. You can include any mix-ins or none at all; it remains chaufa all the same.
This ease of preparation, and the flexibility, is part of the reason the dish was adopted into Peruvian culinary tradition.
Archie Márquez, a member of the Peruvian American Chefs Association, called the dish an important staple in an increasingly celebrated food scene. Márquez is a chef who works with Tigo’s Peruvian Express in Washington, D.C. The restaurant features chaufa on its menu. Julio Postigo, who owns the restaurant with his brother, Fernando, said the dish is among their most popular.
“We wanted to have something that was Peruvian, something that was one of the most iconic dishes in Peruvian gastronomy, but that also wasn’t too complicated in terms of time,” Fernando Postigo said.
The brothers, who are from Bolivia, decided to open a Peruvian restaurant to capitalize on the cuisine’s growing popularity and pay homage to the childhood vacations spent at their grandfather’s house in Arequipa, Peru.
Within the past 30 years, a boom in Peruvian restaurants — in part due to upper-middle class, Europe-educated Peruvian chefs — has put the country on the map for food lovers and critics. This summer, Central, an upscale restaurant in Lima, was named the best restaurant in the world.
Leon attributes the interest in Peruvian restaurants to the country’s cuisine being “the O.G. kind of fusion.”
“It’s something that identifies us and something that I think all Peruvians, including myself, feel very proud of,” said Mauricio Chirinos, a Peruvian chef at the Washington, D.C., restaurant Pisco y Nazca. “Peru is a country that’s so diverse, a country with so many ethnicities in different regions … but we feel Peruvian when we talk about food.”
Dishes such as ceviche, aji de gallina, lomo saltado and arroz chaufa are ubiquitous in Peruvian restaurants, perhaps especially outside of the country. The latter two, both cooked using a wok, represent the fusion of Chinese and Peruvian sensibilities that defines much of the country’s gastronomy.
But celebrating that fusion fails to consider the full magnitude of its history, said Raúl Matta, a Peruvian researcher at the University of Göttingen.
“The history of Chinese people in Peru was not easy,” he said. “They were discriminated [against], they were seen as weak, lazy. … [Chaufa] does not belong to a happy narrative of culinary fusion that is constantly evoked in Peru’s national narrative.”
Between 1847 and 1874, up to 1 million Chinese workers arrived in South America amid a renewed demand for cheap, exploitative labor in the region. Many made the journey after being forced or tricked to do so. Some 100,000 ended up in Peru, where they lived in conditions of semi-enslavement, according to Patricia Palma, an expert in Peruvian history and the Chinese diaspora in Peru at the University of Tarapacá in Chile.
According to Matta, many of the eight-year contracts for these workers included food alongside payment, including rice, vegetables, and a jerky-like meat. Chaufa, and chifa food more generally, “was an attempt to replicate a cuisine from China, from overseas, with ingredients that were in Peru,” Matta said. “It wasn’t something that was mixed consciously. … It was mixed because it had to be.”
When indentured servitude was abolished, Palma said, many Chinese workers opened small businesses, including mobile food shops and small restaurants called fondas.
In the early 1900s, these fondas came to be known as chifas where, according to Matta, “they tried to sell the kind of the kind of cuisine they knew, which is not exactly Chinese cuisine, but it’s a version of it made with the ingredients and the knowledge available in Peru.”
When I visited Márquez and the Postigos at Tigo’s kitchen, he was careful to outline the steps needed to prepare chaufa: First, he cooked the mix-in — in this case, chicken marinated with soy sauce and sesame oil — in a flaming wok. The rice got added next, and he kept it moving as it fried. “Watch your eyebrows,” he joked as the flames jumped.
Next, he added soy sauce and a touch of oyster sauce, plus ginger, or “kion” in Peru, after the original Cantonese word. The vegetables and a scrambled egg came next, topped with some salt and sugar to balance the dish. “There you have it: An arroz chaufa, Peruvian style,” he said.
Though the dish is quite similar to a traditional fried rice, distinct differences come from its translation across oceans.
“Normally, when you order fried rice in the United States, they give it to you with peas and small carrots,” Chirinos said. “We would never use those ingredients.” In a Peruvian chaufa, Chirinos said, the vegetables are usually limited to bean sprouts, peppers and green onion. The rest can vary, but ginger and soy sauce — which in Peru is called “sillao,” after the Cantonese word “si yau” — are musts.
At Pisco y Nazca, which sells four chaufas, customers can replace the rice with quinoa for an Andean twist.
Perhaps more than any other chifa dish, arroz chaufa traverses socioeconomic and cultural differences. A chaufa is a chaufa is a chaufa, whether the mix-in is filet mignon or a hot dog. And for many Peruvians and other Latin Americans, Palma said, chaufa is often the first and most important engagement with Chinese culture and gastronomy.
And along with ceviche, chaufa is among Peru’s most emblematic dishes, Chirinos said. Its influence is seen in small, local eateries, family homes and Michelin-starred restaurants.
“In the case of Chinese immigrants, they’re going to generate a cultural influence that’s so important that it’s able to have a place in the country’s gastronomy,” Palma said. “Peruvians are very nationalist [when it comes to their] cuisine and gastronomy, and yet chaufa has a special place there.”