Before landing in Perú this past summer, a stereotyped image of the nation’s people ran through my mind: dark worn faces, thick accents, compact bodies. While some of these descriptions sum up what I saw looking at the people there, many Peruvians whom I encountered held no correlation with the above-mentioned image. Instead, throughout the semester I learned the vast extent of variety that Perú holds within its boundaries from the Pacific Ocean to the Andes Mountains to the Amazon Rainforest. During a three-week period traveling within these three geographic regions this past month, I stepped outside of the mountain enclosed valley of Arequipa and into the real Perú, a potpourri of different cultures, traditions, and people.
An indicator of the combination society that is Perú is the nation’s Asian population, specifically the Chinese Peruvian populace that makes up between 3-4% of the country’s citizens. Chinese immigrants have been making Perú their own since the end of the 19th century with large numbers still coming into the country today. For this reason, their traditions and culture have blended into Peruvian society (this is where the food comes in!) While Chifa is the term for distinctively Chinese Peruvian food, the dishes themselves are very similar to imitation Chinese food found all over the globe. Yet, Chifa is a large part of the Peruvian cuisine and in being so, it is another delicious asset to the country’s array of mouth-watering platters.
The following moment epitomizes the diffusion of different cultures into the “real” Perú:
Floating down a smaller river inside the Amazon Basin—in a boat that would have just tipped if the equilibrium was not exact—the “Rainforest Tours” guide handed out our lunch for the day. In the middle of the jungle in the northeastern sector of Perú, inside banana leaves that probably came from the canopy of the Amazon, I found my Arroz Chaufa. The dish is a basic but delicious fried rice found anywhere throughout the country. This specific variety was filled with egg, mushrooms, and of course, the soy-sauce seasoned rice. The banana leaves had kept the rice warm inside, almost too hot! Yet, after letting the dish cool off with just a bit of the river breeze, I enjoyed my fair portion of Arroz Chaufa gliding through the Amazon.
It is a memory I will always have from my time in Perú.
Arroz Chaufa is just one of the many traditional Chifa dishes. Wantans, Wantan Soup, Fried Noodles (Chow Mein), and Tipa Kay Chicken (Sweet and Sour Chicken) are just a handful of the lists and lists of platters you can find at a Peruvian Chifa restaurant. Their abundance indicates the boundless stature of Chinese food in a Peruvian world.