Xiao Lu cannot give a definitive number: it is impossible to know for sure how many chifas They operate today on Aviación Avenue, a road artery that connects the districts of La Victoria, Lima, San Luis, San Borja, Surquillo and Santiago de Surco along 51 busy blocks. A quick mathematical estimate leads us to think that the figure far exceeds a hundred on each side of the avenue, but there is a specific area that concerns us more than others. This is the stretch that runs from Javier Prado to Angamos, perhaps the most fertile chifero paradise in the entire city, with Capón’s permission.
The already famous chifa Four Seas, commanded by Lu (Chinese chef based in Lima since 1992), is precisely one of the flagships of this vessel. Xiao does not have a definitive number on the rest of the chifas, but he does know one thing: the pandemic killed several of them. Rented premises and spaces too small to adapt to the protocols, or too large to cover the expenses, played against many between 2020 and 2021. In some of them, assuming a delivery operation was unfeasible (almost all of them manage this service directly). and the closure of offices and other spaces ended up reducing the usual flow of clients. It has been difficult and it still is. But on Avenida Aviación life goes on and the same goes for its chifas.
How did they get there? Chef and businessman Felix Yong, one of the most important gastronomic references in the Chinese-Peruvian community (at the head of El Chinito), has a fairly logical theory: like all commercial spaces in the country, it was natural that on Aviación Avenue there were chifas that satisfy the demand. The nineties marked the beginning and, towards the second decade of the 2000s, the apogee occurred with the appearance of more and more formats. “That area has a plus,” continues Yong. “It is much easier to go there than to Chinatown, and more so at the moment. Of course, it does not have the same charm [que Capón]Yong says. The variety on offer is another determining factor: there is something for all tastes and pockets.
Only in Peru could you find a chicken restaurant that also operates as a chifa –or is it the other way around?–, a format that should be patented not only for the seasoning of each of these culinary concepts, but also for its profitability: every year the Peruvians eat more chicken quarters and chaufa rice dishes than cebiches and lomos saltados, by far. Precisely, in block 27 of Aviación, an unconventional place in its design hides one of the most unexpected surprises of the entire route. At first glance, the Wong King doesn’t really look like what we think a chifa should look like: no red and gold tones, no Chinese letters, no goldfish bowls.
On the first floor is Big Chicken, a space for chickens and barbecues whose posters with promotions could mislead the diner. In the second is what we are looking for: an Eden of Chinese snacks with more than 100 alternatives available, between sweet and savory, baptized as Wong King. Inside, it looks more like a Creole restaurant, with Peruvian paintings, a wine cellar, and lots of wood. That is, until you begin to notice the details: the tables, the chairs –with traditional Chinese designs– and the “paisanos” (Chinese who live in Peru) sitting on them. There’s something going on here and we’re going to find out what it is.
Carlos Lu is the gastronomic businessman in charge of Wong King, which opened in 2018 and from the first moment the idea was to share the two-story premises with the chicken shop, something that continues to this day. No, they don’t serve mostrito (beautiful combination of grilled chicken, chaufa and French fries), but they might consider it a special request, especially for children. Upon ascending to the second floor –as happens in some tea rooms, specialized in snacks–, the client is given a sheet where they can mark the dim sum they want to order. “They all come for delivery, but it’s better to eat them here to taste them fresh,” says Lu. He is not without reason.
Jacao of four colors; xiao lon pao shang hai (a closed and soupy snack that must be eaten carefully, so as not to spill the content); siu mai with shrimp; min pao with roast pork; and chintou con ajonjolí (sweet, fried dough stuffed with black sesame seeds) are just a tiny sample of what’s on offer here. Everything is made from scratch – including the noodles in the soups – and everything is irresistible. It is impossible to stop.
But you have to leave space. Ana Liang says that Peruvians eat a lot. “In China, the plates are smaller so that nothing is left over,” she tells us as she greets us at one of the family tables on the second floor of the Hakka chifa. Liang, of course, is also right. We rarely leave the chaufa and the noodle and sometimes we even put them together in the same portion –why not do it?–, but perhaps we are missing out on a lot. Hakka is an endless source of alternatives; so many that it is almost intimidating to open the letter, whose pages never seem to end. And this is just the “Peruvian” menu. From roast duck or suckling pig to pachikay chicken, to a jellyfish salad, a spicy duck gizzard or a crab with ginger: here the product shines in combinations, but also in variety.
After eleven years meeting local tastes at the Four Seas – a few blocks beyond the Hakka, in the San Borjina area of Aviación – for Xiao Lu the blow of the pandemic is still difficult to bear. “Before you walked around here and you didn’t see any premises to rent. Now there are many. On weekends people lined up to get in and that doesn’t happen anymore; they are coming back little by little”, she maintains about the current panorama. Lu is also concerned about prices, but he knows that he must do his best to find a formula that allows him to keep his customers happy in both prices and flavors. After the closure of many chifas in Lima, in the provinces they are increasing and things “go better over there,” says Xiao. But nothing gets him out of Aviation.
With a slow Spanish, the Cantonese Ricardo Lok -installed in Peru for three decades- keeps calm from his chifa, A su gusto, whose doors have been open since 2014. In the pandemic, the support of his son Danny, born in the Peru, was essential to make the leap to delivery and even to social networks. “All things have risen,” says Don Ricardo. “But the quality is not going to go down.” The chifa must continue.
5 things to keep in mind before the visit:
1. Explore above. It is a golden rule that the second floors of the chifas (when the place has two floors, that is) are reserved for special, private dishes and tables of “countrymen” or Chinese who seek to eat more purist recipes, different from the version criollada that is served in Peru.
2. Straight home. Many chifas have their own delivery operation, something that has taken hold during the pandemic. The most traditional manage this activity by themselves (including take out) without being present in applications. Most work with landlines and orders can be made in advance.
3. The menu you don’t know. Another chifera golden rule: there will always, or almost always, be two cards available: one “Peruvian” and the other purely Chinese. Usually only the first one is displayed.
4. Tastes and colors. Although there is something for everyone in the Sanborjino section of Aviación Avenue, many of the spaces have –each one– their specialty: sandwiches, Peking duck, soups and dishes “for Peruvians”, among others. Among these restaurants they know and respect it.
5. To go. Near several of these chifas you will find establishments with Asian products of all kinds, from vegetables to sauces, noodles or teas. It is not a good idea to end your visit to the area without going through one of these shops.
- Hakka. Address: Av. Aviación 2877, San Borja. Hours: Delivery: 651-0856
- Four Seas International House. Address: Av. Aviación 3124, San Borja. Delivery: 226-7419 / 277-4430
- Wong King. Address: Av. Aviación 2755, San Borja. Delivery: 389-9976
- To your taste. Address: Av. Aviación 2786, San Borja. Delivery: 224-7976