Sunday, February 21, 2010

Happy New Year . . .

. . . Chinese New Year, that is!


Just what is Chinese New Year?  There's actually a lot more to it than lion dances and firecrackers, although these two pieces of tradition are integral and more visible, Chinese New Year to China is like Christmas to the West.  In essence, Chinese New Year is spending time with family, gift giving and, the all important, food-fest.  While—if you're lucky—may get Christmas Eve day off in addition to Christmas Day, Chinese New Year festivities officially last for 15 days!!!

Chinese New Year celebrations have their origin with end-of-harvest celebrations when people would offer thanks to gods for good harvests and pray for a good crop in the following year. Although they varied according to the different calendars used, the customs were formalized under Han Dynasty (206BC-AD 25) rule.

2010 brings the Year of the Tiger on the Chinese lunar calendar and the New Year started on 14 February.

In Lima, Peru—where I was born and raised—a traditional arch welcomes you to the "Barrio Chino" (Chinatown) at the corner of Jirón Ucayali and Jirón Andahuaylas, right next to Lima’s "Mercado Central" (Central Market). And between blocks 7 and 8 of Jirón Andahuaylas you'll find the well-known "Calle Capón" (Capon Street), where all the "chifas" (Chinese restaurants) are located.



"Chifa" is a term used in Peru to refer to a style of food produced by the fusion of creole Peruvian food with Chinese food brought by Chinese immigrants mainly from the southern province of Guangdong and particularly its capital city, Canton, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is also used to define a restaurant where this type of food is served. "Chifa" has become one of the most popular types of food in Peru and has achieved international fame.  Nowadays, "chifa" has evolved enormously and has acquired its own personality forming part of Peruvian gastronomy.  A few interesting tidbits:
  • There are more chinese restaurants in Peru than in any other Latin American country: around 6,000, just in Lima.
  • In Peru, ginger is known by the Chinese world "kion" rather than the Spanish "gengibre", and soy sauce is "sillau" rather than "salsa de soya".
  • Fried rice is known as "arroz chaufa" or simply "chaufa" rather than the Spanish "arroz frito" or "arroz chino".
  • There are no "fortune cookies" at the end of your meal . . . rather, you get a white, soft, chewy candy wrapped in a thin edible paper-like wrapping made from sticky rice.

Everyone who knows me well is aware of my "passion" for Peruvian-Chinese cuisine or "chifa".  I've been known to eat "chifa" for three days in a row whenever I'm back in Lima on vacation! :)  When I was a kid, I would await with delight Friday nights . . . it was "chifa" night!  We always went to the same restaurant, "Chifa Taiwan", which was an unassuming, small but clean place.  We would always take one of the private booths, closed off with red curtains.  The dinner fare typically included fried wontons with tamarind dipping sauce, wonton soup, pork or chicken fried rice, chicken in oyster sauce, roast pork with scallions, and sauté noodles with snow peas, mushrooms and quail eggs . . . all washed down with Inca Kola! :)  It was a feast!  Ahhh . . . those times!  As I grew up, I realized there were "other" Chinese dishes, equally tasty, that soon became part of my favorites:

  • Chi Jau Kai chicken (boned chicken pieces marinated in oil, salt, pepper, sugar, ginger, garlic, pisco, soy sauce, and "mensí" or black bean paste sauce, vapor cooked, then drenched in cornstarch, deep fried, and served with oyster sauce and sesame seeds)
  • Chicken Roll-ups with Asparagus (chicken filets stuffed with asparagus, drenched in cornstarch, deep fried and served, also, with oyster sauce)
  • Crab Claws (Crab claws wrapped in a paste prepared with shrimp, egg white, salt, pepper, sugar, cornstarch, and sesame oil, drenched in cornstarch, fried, and served with lime juice and Chinese cinnamon)



Pinky*! x) said...

mmm .. this article looks very tasty to me :)
yummy .. I just love Chifa, my favorite dish is Chi Jau Kai chicken, I use to order it everytime I go to a Chifa it's so delicious ;)
This is a very interesting article I like it :)

SusyCS said...

Gracias . . . Pinky??? lol