Chifa Peruano (Peruvian Chinese) on outer Mission
- Gary Soup Jan 14, 2006 11:57 PM
Watching Cheuk Kwan's "Chinese Restaurants" series which just came out on DVD, I found myself inspired to seek out some hyphenated-Chinese food here in town. I recalled a review of a Peruvian "chifa" called simply "Asian Restaurant -- Chifa Peruano" in AsianWeek a couple of years back. The only mention of it I could find on Chowhound was just that, a mention, by someone who hadn't tried it, so I decided to check it out.
I found the chifa on Mission St. just south of Geneva. At 1:30 on a cold, drizzly Saturday there were two Hispanic families and one Chinese family, who appeared to be friends or relatives of the owners, present. The family that owns it is, in fact from Peru, and spoke fluent Spanish to their Hispanic customers and Spanish mixed with Cantonese to each other.
Being solo, I opted for a warming wonton soup (sopa wantan) and a couple of apps, but also ordered two entrees to bring home for dinner. The wonton soup had a chicken-ey broth, and the wontons were accompanied only by some cabbage leaves. The wantons were pork filled, with a thicker, darker colored wrapper than is customary but nonetheless tasty. My apps were potstickers (surprisingly decent versions, though I neglected to ask if they were actually house-made), and fried prawns, which were a bit too oily from the thick batter that was used.
The two entrees I bought to take home were lomo saltado ("beef sauteed with potatoes") and chicken fried rice (chaufa de pollo). Both of these are almost National dishes in Peru (as is wonton soup), though the lomo saltado is really more "criollo" (traditional Peruvian) than "chifa." Since it was my wife's mahjongg night, and I was too lazy to do otherwise, I simply nuked both takeouts in the microwave. The fried rice survived just fine; it was a non-greasy version, more like a paella (or think "arroz con pollo") with healthy amounts of chicken and egg, though a bit on the bland side. The lomo saltado was rich in nicely-browned fried potato pieces (or more likely French fries), and would have benefitted from reheating in a fry pan or wok instead of microwaving. The dish was also a bit on the bland side, too, particularly for a dish that's traditionally quite spicy.
Overall, the food was less interesting from a cuisine standpoint than from a cultural anthropology standpoint, but I'll probably be back to try more chifa specialties offered, such as the eccentric kam lu won ton ("fried wonton topped with assorted meats") or "prawn rolled in chicken."
Asian Restaurant Chifa Peruano
5173 Mission St. (between Geneva and Rolph)
Mon. - Sun 11:00 am - 10:00 PM
They also deliver.
In Peru, Chifas diners are all over. I remember when I visited during college, I had nothing but Chifas at barrio chino for 8 days. It was cheap and it was quick. There are about 1/2 million Chinese or as the Peruvians call Chifas in Peru. There are estimated about 4,500+ Chinfas diners in Lima alone.
Good find, maybe I'll give it a try sometimes.
Also, as a side note. Golden Gate bakery in Chinatown are owned by Peruvian-Chinese. They take couple of weeks off during summer to return for a visit.
Yes, the owners work the counter, in fact I am sure that most of the counter staff are members of the family. There were a lot of Chinese that move to South America due to the tough rules in coming to America. In fact I too have family from South Amreica forgot which country but not Peru. As I remember their Chinese was better than mine at the time but they would speak Spanish when they did not want us to know what they were saying. When I may need to add another place to try.
Thanks for your insightful review. Your chief complaint seems to be "blandness." I have to admit that I find most Peruvian food to be a little bland. Having never been to Peru, I don't know if this blandness is a characteristic of Peruvian restaurants here or if it is something one encounters in Peru.
If the latter is true, then it would appear that the bland dishes at Asian Restaurant Chifa Peruano are authentic.
Regardless, I will give this place a try, mostly for the reasons you state. Thanks for letting us know about this place.
Being a peruvian, i have to disagree with what you say about the "blandness" of peruvian food. Actually peruvian food is very tasty, we have a lot of spices we use in our food. We have some unique tasting chilis, that may not be found in the Bay Area. I have tried different peruvian restaurants in San Francisco, some dishes dont have the same taste as in Peru, but some of them are very close.
If you ever come to Peru, you will see how delicious is our food, i can recommend you really good restaurants where you will try food that is far from "bland".
I personally was only referring to the food at the chifa. I have had Peruvian food in the past in that was quite spicy, including and especially lomo saltado. I don't know if the blandness of the food was the fault of the restaurant or Peruvian-Chinese food in general.
Sorry Claudia, but I find the food bland, but the caveat is that I have only eaten in restaurants here and have never had the pleasure of traveling in Peru, nor have I eaten Peruvian home cooking.
I did have one great dish many years ago - a wonderful soup in Fina Estampa when it was on Mission - it was a spicy, tomato-based fish soup that was incredible.
But most of the dishes I have eaten since then have been very bland, which is probably more of an indication of the restaurants here than it is about Peruvian food.
Maybe it is just a matter of tastes - gustos.
Would you consider recommending what you consider a good Peruvian restaurant in the SF Bay area? Also what would be good to order?
Nah Peruvian food isn't bland by design, although
depending on the skill of the chef, it might turn out
that way. There are a lot of flavors and spices
including citrus, onion, aji (chili), soy, and of
course the ubiquitous MSG.
Peruvian chinese food in general tends towards
Cantonese cooking, which is the heritage of the
original immigrants. If you prefer Peruvianized and
spicier Beijing / Sichuan derivatives, you'll have
to look far and wide, even in Lima. Let us know
if you come across anything. Peruvian chinese
restaurants do a wonderful job with all types of
seafood, including steamed fish cantonese style
with soy sauce, green onions, cilantro. They do
use strange fish that I haven't seen here before.
Their spanish names are something like chita and
sapo. Chita is a fish with white flesh, kinda like
tilapia or bass. Sapo flesh has a softer consistency
and its skin is red. Its eye is also extraordinarily
large. Other memorable dishes include noodles with
Erizo (uni, sea urchin by other names), black conch,
and baby octopus, all of which are done in a
latin/sino fusion style that you could eat every
Sunday and be happy.
There is a nice down home Peruvian restaurant in
redwood city called Estampas Peruanas. Although not
a "chifa" per se, they can and will cook u some of
the more common Peruvian chinese specialties like
arroz chaufa (fried rice). Get it with beef or seafood.
Have a Cusquena beer and ask for a small dish of their
orange chili sauce, aji rocoto. They also do a nice
Chupe de camarones (shrimp soup).
I was planning to show some of this series in my class. Do you think it would be worth making a pit stop at Asian Restaurant Chifa Peruano w/ the kids? They'll be experiencing so much "here's what happens to Chinese food when it hits the US," it might be nice to give them an example of how it is affected by encounters with other cuisines.
The restaurant is now called El Porteno / chifa peruano. One side of the menu has criollo dishes you'll find elsewhere at Peruvian restaurants, and the other side has chifa dishes, similar at least in name as what you'd find at Chinese places in SF.
As kind of a barometer of the food, I had the lomo saltado. The beef had a nice char and went nicely with the grilled onions, but the MSG dominated sauce was a bit much to take. Some of the fries were crisp, but most were soggy and undercooked from the get go. I'm curious about some of the dishes mentioned above, but will probably not be back anytime soon.