There are tens of thousands of chifas, the local name for a Chinese restaurant, in Peru. They are found on almost every street corner in Lima and even in remote communities in the Amazon rainforest. Continuing his world domination with the chifa Madam Tusan, Gaston Acurio has proved that his brand of Peruvian cuisine can do little wrong. Opened at the end of April (2011), Madam Tusan is Acurio’s first foray into a concept that isn’t traditional Peruvian cuisine and takes Acurio out of his criolla comfort zone.
Chifas are overwhelmingly simple and generally inexpensive. They are far less fusion than most Peruvians think. While their influence on mainstream Peruvian cuisine is clearly evident (see Lomo Saltado), most chifas serve what is for the most part standard Cantonese cuisine. While there are a few chifas in Lima that serve dim sum and are a bit more upscale than normal, no major chef has attempted to neither reinvent nor modernize this variation of Peruvian food. Nikkei dishes yes, the chifa never. It seems so obvious to make a chifa an actual fusion restaurant, but no one has really done it. Acurio’s restaurant serves a version of Chinese tacos (thanks Kogi for the inspiration). He stir fries chicken gizzards with soy sauce,honey, and aji peppers (mollejitas al sillao). Pastel de choclo becomes pastel de nabo (radish). Caldo de gallina even has a Chinese accent.
One of the biggest successes at Madam Tusan are the four salsas that are put out on every table. They’re a mix of Chinese and Peruvian flavors – soy, ginger, Chinese onion, aji panca, and rocoto. Two are thick and sweet like a hoisin (though one is brilliantly spiced up with rocoto) and should be bottled up and sold at Wong supermarkets. There’s also plenty of dim sum, Asian themed pisco cocktails (though apart from lychee and Chinese orange, they’re just replicas of others from the Acurio empire), and a four-course Pekin Duck tasting menu (Fiesta de pato pekenes – the crunchy skin with Chinese pancakes, as tacos, as a saltado (stir fry), and a sou made from the bones).
Walking in without a reservation, a seat at the four-person bar was immediately presented. Not ideal in the two level restaurant, though that’s the lunch rush at a popular restaurant on a Monday in Lima. Food came quick. When a tray of drinks was wrong and sent back, they tossed one my way. The floor manager, as friendly as any I’ve ever encountered in Lima, was genuinely happy to tell me about the dishes and she asked what I thought about my rice noodles and cocktail. Dessert was intriguing, but having eaten only half of my enormous entrée I had to take a raincheck. Still, a few wantons drizzled in honey and sprinkled with powdered sugar came my way. As did a fortune cookie, which read: Preparate para vivir horas de passion con tu pareja (prepare to live hours of passion with your spouse). Could a fortune cookie fortune be any more Latin?
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.