We are almost approaching 450 authentic and traditional recipes from around the world on 196 flavors, but I think this is the first time we are featuring a cuisine that is recognized as an integral part of a country’s culture… yet its roots are not traced to that country!
Lomo saltado, literally “jumping loin”, is a stir fry dish composed of marinated strips of sirloin (or tenderloin), red onions, tomatoes, French fries that is traditionally served with white rice.
This recipe, somewhat unusual for a Latin American country is part of a cuisine created by Chinese immigrants that is called chifa. Chifa also refers to the restaurants that serve this fusion cuisine. This word comes the Cantonese words for “to eat”, chi fan, or more precisely “to eat rice”.
But how did chifa become so engrained in Peru’s gastronomic culture?
In the nineteenth century, the Pacific became a superhighway of trade and migrations. Among other industries, the coastal commercial agriculture in Peru was growing. A bigger workforce was needed and that is the main reason why many Chinese came across the ocean to Peru. Around 100,000 Chinese coolies came to Peru as indentured servants between 1849 and 1874, to replace African slave laborers, while Peru was in the process of abolishing slavery.
A number of people now call this melting pot of different cultures, including Hispanic, African, Caribbean and Asian, on the Peruvian coast, the creole culture, or la cultura criolla.
A 1903 Peruvian cookbook titled “Nuevo Manual de Cocina a la Criolla” (New Manual of Creole Cuisine) actually included a short description of the lomo saltado recipe.
The first chifa restaurants have appeared in Lima in the early twentieth century. Chifa is mostly restaurant food. This cuisine that few Peruvians make at home has been regularly influenced by cooks from China, especially from the area of Guangdong (Canton) from where most Chinese immigrants came from.
I am certain there are other cuisines, which similarly to chifa, trace their roots to the ones of immigrants. However, I would argue that in most cases, these cuisines are regional and the representation of the influence of neighboring countries like Tex Mex cuisine, or colonization like the British influence on Indian cuisine or the ubiquitous Indian cuisine in Great Britain.
Although lomo saltado has now been elevated to a national dish in Peru, chifa cuisine has also introduced several recipes that are now mainstays of Peruvian cuisine, including arroz chaufa (fried rice), tipakay (sweet and sour chicken), chicken chijaukay (chicken in brown sauce) or kam lu wantán (deep fried wonton with a sweet and sour sauce).
The technique and ingredients used in lomo saltado perfectly illustrate what chifa is all about. A stir-fry (Chinese technique) of potatoes (which originated in Peru) served with rice (which originated in Asia) is typical of the cultural blending that the dish represents.
While beef is the most common meat used in lomo saltado, you can also use chicken to make a pollo saltado. Or, instead of potatoes, you can use noodles, to make another version called tallarin saltado.
It is clear that chifa is now an established type of cuisine within the traditional Peruvian cuisine. However, this duality in the gastronomy of the country is nothing new. According to Professor Rodolfo Tafur, a trained chef, gastronomic historian and chair of gastronomy at two universities in Peru, duality has always been a constant in the Incan empire. Male and female were complementary. So to this day, all Peruvian dishes contain something that grows above ground (male) and something that grows underground (female). So, for lomo saltado, it would be potatoes and aji.
This chifa dish may even have roots in more traditional Peruvian cuisine, including recipes like lomo de vaca or lomo a la chorrillana.
I prepared this dish on a weekday. It is actually quite simple to make and also very quick, as the stir-fry is ready in the 20 minutes it takes for the frozen French fries to be fully cooked in the oven and the rice to be done in the rice cooker.
Lomo saltado also calls for aji amarillo, this ubiquitous spicy condiment that I had already used for my papas a la huancaina. Aji amarillo is as ubiquitous as ketchup on American tables or Salsa Lizano on Costa Rican tables! Again, you can use fresh aji amarillo peppers, boil them and make a paste out of the peeled skin… or like me and probably a number of lazy Peruvian cooks, you can just buy aji amarillo paste at your local Hispanic market!
I absolutely loved this dish. I don’t know if it is the kick provided by the peppers, the unusual combination of French fries and stir-fry or the crunchiness of the onions and tomatoes, but this actually worked for me! I added just a little bit of rice, as I thought I had enough starch with the French fries.
Some people serve the rice and French fries separately, but I actually loved mixing my French fries with the saltado before serving to let the potatoes soak in the delicious sauce.
Now, it’s your turn to make this mouthwatering quick and easy Peruvian mainstay!
- 1 lb sirloin or tenderloin steak, cut in thin strips
- 1 red onion , cut in thick slices
- 2 tomatoes , cut in thick slices and seeded
- 1 tablespoon aji amarillo paste
- 2 cloves garlic , crushed
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- ½ cup cilantro , chopped
- 2 cups French fries
- White rice
- Marinate the sirloin steak strips in the soy sauce, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper for about 15 minutes.
- In a wok or a pan over very high heat, add the oil and sauté the meat for about 10 minutes. Set the marinade aside.
- Add the garlic, onion, tomato, aji amarillo paste, and stir for a couple of minutes. Add the soy sauce and vinegar from the marinade and mix everything. Season with more salt and pepper.
- Take off the heat, add chopped cilantro and serve immediately with French fries and white rice.