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Los Chifas el Peru

by: Mariella Balbi

Lima, Peru : 1999, Hardbound

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Fall Volume: 2001 Issue: 8(3) page(s): 25 and 26

This bilingual beauty of a book, in English called: Los Chifas in Peru: History and Recipes, explores Chinese immigration to Peru from assorted gastronomical perspectives. It is richly illustrated, probably the most thorough work to date on this subject, and is a book we fell in love with when we first viewed it. Know that you will, too.

The photography by Hans Stoll (Cyan) and Ana de Orbegoso is outstanding and deserves special commendation. This phenomenal volume enthusiastically details, as a journalist can, some very readable prose. Delight in learning about the Chinese immigration to Peru that began about 1849 when the first contingent of laborers were brought over to work on Peru’s haciendas. Enjoy their troubles and triumphs and all the quoted materials told to Ms Balbi who now tells you exactly how and why Chinese food and Chinese restaurants are appreciated in Lima Peru. She correctly says it is one of the cities of the world with excellent and authentic Chinese food.

See the black and white pictures of the early immigrants and their lists of provisions when the book begins and the marvelous counterpoint of completed recipes in color at the end. The latter come from culinary pioneers and current restauranteurs, their eateries called 'Chifas.'

Find out about early Chinese people's contracts, and the farms and storerooms that fed them psychologically and in reality. Learn that they needed to import everything, their role in commercial businesses, the taverns they kept and cooked at, their groceries, lard shops, and their café’s. Taste their sauteed beef, tacu-tacu, min pau, tamarind, and fried fish.

Learn why Chinese restaurants are called 'chifas,' and meet several food pioneers, Chinese-Peruvian style. Then make some of their recipes and those of the named and anonymous restaurants making what some consider the best Chinese food outside of Hong Kong and Taiwan. Sample the Stoll/Orbegoso food pictures and then prepare the dishes this culinary researcher shares. Begin with those of the pioneers, whose stories you read about such as their Crab with Quail's Eggs and Mushrooms, Mr Chong's Lou Ming Noodles, the Pig's Trotters in Vinegar, the Egg-coated Tofu with Cau Choy Sauce or the Duck in Ginger. Next, taste Peruvian favorites such as Fried Wonton filled with minced pork and egg. Dip them in Sweet and Sour Sauce, then have some Special Fried Rice made without soy sauce, yang chao style, and with chicken, pork, shrimp, duck, and eggs, and their Chicken Rolls filled with lots of garlic, potato, chicken, pork, and cabbage leaves.

Next advance to the restaurant fare and after you finish salivating at the photos, roll up your sleeves and prepare the Shrimp-stuffed Peppers in Tausi Sauce, the Chili Chicken Wings, a dish of Seven Flavor Tenderloin and another of Stir-fried Sajofan with Meat which we would call a fancy and fantastic chao fun dish. Make some Sichuan Goat, an order of Steamed Fish with Pickled Lemon, and another of Pork Cutlets in Mango Sauce. You will have one fantastic banquet, a Peruvian-style meal not easily forgotten.
Steamed Fish with Pickled Lemon
2 whole pickled lemons (see instruction #1 below)
1 cup coarse non-iodized salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 Tablespoons rice wine
1 whole one and a half pound fish; pompano or lemon sole are recommended
4 slices fresh ginger, peeled and cut in thin strips
4 large scallions, one angle-cut into one-inch pieces
6 black mushrooms, soaked twenty minutes, stem removed, then sliced
3 tablespoons thin soy sauce
1/4 cup coriander
1/4 cup corn oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1. To make the pickled lemons, fill a glass jar with the two whole lemons and cover them with salt. Close and set aside for a week, then remove lemons, rinse them thoroughly, when ready to use, slice them and mix with sugar and rice wine and marinate them for ten minutes.
2. Put the three whole scallions on a plate and put the fish on top of them. Put mushroom and lemon slices on the fish along with the marinating sauce.
3. Steam this over boiling water for fifteen minutes. Then remove the fish to a warm serving platter and mix the reserved juices with the soy sauce and pour over the fish.
4. Heat the oil and fry the garlic just until it is fragrant then pour this over the fish, as well. Serve.

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