Having grown up in Los Angeles, it was not uncommon to come across several different cuisines during my searches for the next best local restaurant. Throughout this continuous search one dish that has become a favorite of mine is the Peruvian lomo saltado.
My introduction to Peruvian cuisine began at Mario’s Peruvian on Melrose Avenue at the behest of a friend. I took my first bite and that was it. I was hooked. A perfect balance of flavors. Freshly squeezed lemon over a bed of tomato, onion, french fries, seasoned beef, and rice. Every element was working together in synchrony to create a flavor all its own.
Little did I know that my first experience was only the beginning of what I would discover to be a delicious cuisine that traces back to 19th century Peru.
During the mid-1800’s, over 100,000 Chinese immigrant laborers arrived from Guangdong and Hong Kong. These indentured workers arrived on the heels of an expanding economy and the abolishment of slavery by President Ramón Castilla y Marquezado in 1854. Conditions were harsh both in the plantations and within the communities. It took several decades for the population of Chinese laborers to make a place for themselves. By the early 20th century the blending of cultures had begun to take shape. One way in which this was apparent was in the immerging cuisine that became known as chifa.
The word itself comes from the Cantonese word chī fàn, which means to “eat rice.” Chifa cuisine incorporates traditional Asian flavors such as ginger and soy sauce with Peruvian ingredients like aji amarillo and pineapple. Popular dishes on Chifa menus include wonton soup, chaufa (fried rice), and lomo saltado.
Over 150 years later, chifa cuisine has gained massive popularity with diners throughout Los Angeles. From my first taste at Mario’s Peruvian to my most recent at Chifa in Eagle Rock, it has been fascinating to discover how it came to be. Not only is it a cuisine rich in flavor, but it is even richer in its history.