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What Does "Chifa" Mean?

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  • Written By: Rachael Cullins
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2014
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Chifa is a term used to describe a certain type of cuisine served in Peru that is a mix of Peruvian and Chinese foods. The exact origin of the word is unknown but may come from a Mandarin term meaning "to eat rice." This type of cuisine is extremely popular in Lima, the capital of Peru. Many dishes start with a base of traditional Chinese food and are infused with ingredients or flavorings found in Peruvian cuisine.

The chifa genre of food arose following an influx of Chinese immigrants to Peru in the 1800s and 1900s. Certain produce items and ingredients that are readily available in Peru were substituted for traditional Chinese ingredients in many dishes, resulting in an entirely new type of cuisine. Since the first chifa restaurant opened in Lima in the 1920s, the food has become one of the most commonly served cuisines in Peru, and Peruvians openly embrace it as part of their culture. In Peru, "chifa" is also used as a noun to refer to a restaurant serving chifa food.

Many different dishes are part of chifa cuisine, and the mix of Peruvian and Chinese foods is highly evident. For instance, potatoes — not usually found in traditional Chinese food — are often infused with fried rice and sauces that are used mainly in Chinese cuisine. Pineapple chicken, wontons, garlic pork, curried alpaca, fried noodles, and various soups are popular chifa dishes. Sweet-and-sour dishes are also common.

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The popularity of chifas has extended beyond Peru. There are chifas in many American cities, where meals are often served in small portions that are meant to be shared. Lima is still by far the place where chifas are the most common with some 6,000 restaurants calling the city home. Gaining popularity in Peru is Japanese/Peruvian-infused cuisine, mixing Peruvian flavors with traditional Japanese dishes such as sushi. Due to the popularity of chifa, it is hard to find true Chinese food in Peru that includes ingredients only originating in China.

Chifa is one of many types of cuisine esteemed by Peruvian culture. Dishes found in Peru often reflect influences from other cultures and countries, such as Spain, France, and Italy. Beans, potatoes, rice, and corn are often the basis of Peruvian dishes. Other crops native to Peru that are commonly used in cooking include peanuts, tomatoes, and various fruits. Different regions in Peru specialize in different types of cuisine and traditional dishes.

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