Food and the World – Globalization, Migration, Food, Fusion – Chifa in Quito, Ecuador – by Megan Gonrowski. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports
While studying abroad in Ecuador, I lived with a host family in Quito. I loved the homey feeling of living with a large family. Especially because once everyone was home for the night, we all sat around the table to eat dinner. The size of the meal usually depended on the time of day and the day of the week. On the weekends, dinner was a large early meal. On a late weeknight, dinner was often fresh bread and hot cocoa or tea. However, I was surprised one afternoon when my host sister brought home what appeared to be Chinese food in the form of fried rice. It was not until I had lived in Ecuador long enough to start to ask questions about this so called “Chinese” food. The dish I ate looked like vegetable fried rice with tofu squares and the dish often came with soy sauce or aji (hot sauce). The only unusual aspect about the dish is that it came from a restaurant called Chifa La Reina. The word that was supposed to be China was replaced with the word Chifa.
Once I had noticed this apparent irregularity in the name, I started noticing that every “Chinese” restaurant in Quito had the word Chifa in the title instead of China. So finally, the next time my family brought home food from the Chifa restaurant, I asked them why the spelling was strange. The explanation I received was something along the lines of “well…it isn’t really Chinese food. The popular dishes are from Peru and they call it Chifa.” So, after this I had some answers on the root of the strange spelling, but still no answers. The fried rice dish that I had been eating was called chaulafán, but it has no translation to English. However, after a little research, I realized the Ecuadorian word for the dish is different than the Peruvian name for the same dish. In Peru, the dish is called arroz chaufa which translates to fried rice. The Ecuadorians had created a similar word from the word fried or chaufa to create chaulafán.
After understanding where the dish had originated. I looked into the history of why Peru would have a famous dish that appears to be Chinese. After some quick researching, I learned that Chinese immigrants from the southern region of China had been migrating to Lima, Peru in the 19th and 20th century. I also learned that Lima has its own version of China Town where the first Chifa restaurants were created in the 1920s. Chifa being the word for the Chinese-Peruvian fusion dishes that are very popular in Peru. The Chifa food did not become popular in Ecuador until 1970 when Chinese immigrant began to settle in Ecuador. Now, at least in Quito, there is a Chifa restaurant every few blocks and the local people seem to love the Chinese-Peruvian dishes like arroz chaufa or how Ecuadorians call it, chaulafán.
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26 responses to “Food and the World – Globalization, Migration, Food, Fusion – Chifa in Quito, Ecuador – by Megan Gonrowski. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports”
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Thank you for this wonderful article and for the research that you have done. I never even thought about looking into food that I have eaten. I thought that it was really interesting, that the traces of Chinese food can be tracked back to Peru. I also thought that it was really cool how cultured the food fried rice it. I was wondering if the fried rice tasted like the fried rice in the U.S. or if each country has a little bit of a different take on it? Over all I think this article is really cool because it shows how everyone in the world can be connected through food.
I really enjoyed reading your article and it made me think a lot more of globalization and the food around us. Growing up in Northern Minnesota, our Chinese restaurants were typically buffets. They also often had very mainstream names such as, the Hong Kong buffet, the Grand China buffet, or King China buffet. When I was younger, I greatly enjoyed nights when my family would eat at the Chinese restaurants. The food was good and different, and at the end of the meal we always got a special fortune cookie. Now that I am older, I realize how americanized this experience was for me. Often for desert at these restaurants we would have soft serve ice cream, which I’m not sure how authentic Chinese that is. Also now looking at the names of these restaurants I realize how americanized they also sound. I wonder why most of these restaurants were often buffets and very rarely order off the menu style restaurants? I have never been out of the United States, but I really hope to some day soon. I wonder what American restaurants will look like in other places of the world. I think the Chifa you experienced in Ecuador is a really fascinating part of globalization and it raises a lot of questions for me as to why things are the way they are for these migrants. Your article really got me thinking and was very interesting, thank you for sharing!
Very nice article and that is awesome you got this experience. Did you originally think that “Chifa” had a different meaning then the spin off chinese food from Peru that it represented? At first I just thought it was the word for China in Ecuador. But then finding out it wasn’t was and it was a spin on Chinese dish that were popular in Peru raised questions. How did these dish then look like the “traditional Chinese” dishes we had in America. Does this mean our Chinese food in the US is a spin off of the traditional dishes?
How incredibly interesting! That dish, first of all, sounds delicious. Second of all, has a highly intriguing history. I had no idea there was a wave of Chinese immigrants into Peru in the 1970’s but I think it is rather impressive that Chinese cuisine seems to integrate itself into native cuisine with relative ease and popularity wherever it finds itself. Thank you for sharing!
Looking at the sign in the upper right corner of the restaurant, I too would have assumed the food to be of Chinese cuisine. I found this post interesting because I also had a similar experience when I had traveled to Puerto Rico last year and ate at a traditional Puerto Rican restaurant. I asked the server to offer me an authentic Puerto rican dish and what I got was something very familiar to me. What I got was called “mofongo,” a platter that looked like mash potatoes but instead it was mashed with fried plantains and In it was also shrimp. You can also you can also get it plain or with any type of meat of your liking. I bring this up because, I was instantly reminded of that dish my Nigerian friend had made for me. A dish called “fufu”, the one made with plantain and instead of the traditional cassava. I sat there wondering and trying make connections as to why it tasted almost the same. I did a bit of digging around to discover that during the colonization of Puerto Rico by the Spaniards, Africans were enslaved and brought there to work on gold mines and sugar cane fields. Putting two and two together and with the help of the websites I stumbled upon, everything seemed to indicate that “mofongo”, in fact, has origins that trace back to Africa and the dish that I knew to be “fufu”.
This was a very interesting article. Which makes me think of a few things and questions. You mention how meals were determined by the time of day and day of the week, was that an overall practice of the Ecuadorian family or was it particular to your host family? You also mention how families would sit around the table to eat, which is in correlation with what we looked at in class. An example that we looked at was a Senegalese family and the practice of sitting in a circle and sharing one big meal together. Again I am wondering if the idea of eating together was typical for all Ecuadorian family and how might the life of living in a metropolitan alter such practice? On a special note, Chifa, did you enjoy it? And how can you compare it to US Chinese food? Also, I am wondering how might either Ecuadorian or Peruvian express the taste of Chifa, and how much is it worth paying for? Do they consider it luxurious food, or do they categorize it?
Thank you for all the wonderful questions. For meal times it was mostly determined by what time my host parents got home from work. We would usually wait for everyone to get home because dinner time was an important time to talk. To answer another one of your questions… there is a term in Spanish for the time spent around the table after meals called “sobremesa”, which basically translates to around the table. This was an important part of every meal, and I often spent more time sitting and talking at the table than actually eating. As for weekends, we simply had more time to cook and sit down so the meals were longer with multiple courses. Also, the meals during the week are often smaller because Ecuadorians tend to have larger and longer lunchtime breaks. Therefore, they were less likely to eat a large dinner. This is something my host mom questioned me about because she knows it is a U.S. custom to have a larger dinner, but in Ecuador the largest meal is lunch. The food from the Chifa restaurant was pretty good, but I found it needed some hot sauce to spice it up. However, I only ate veggie fried rice from the single restaurant near my house. Therefore, I cannot speak for the cuisine as a whole. The fried rice was less oily than the fried rice I have had in MN. I do not remember how much we paid for the food, but I believe it to be comparable to the take out Chinese food in the U.S. My family really liked it and we had it about once a month while I was there. Also, from my research it seems that Peruvians enjoy Chifa and therefore the popularity has spread to other Latin American countries. Also, it was interesting the one time I went into the restaurant to pick up the food because the servers were not all Ecuadorian. I clearly remember the receptionist not being Ecuadorian because I could tell she was not a native Spanish speaker, and another worker was helping translate to her in a different language. In the end it was an interesting experience of trying new food that looked and sort of tasted familiar to something I have had in the U.S.
Your article is very interesting! When your host family stated that “it isn’t really Chinese food” it makes think what would it take for that food to be considered Chinese food? Does it have to be made in China to be considered true Chinese food? Another thing, when you mentioned the “dinner was often fresh bread and hot cocoa or tea,” it made me think of my home in Haiti. In Haiti, bread and coffee is a very popular meal that my family have for breakfast rather than dinner. For dinner, it was very common to have rice and beans and sometimes chicken. Thank you for sharing your cultural experience!
What an interesting article! Your experience really encapsulates globalization in the sense that your experience studying abroad in Ecuador provided you with the opportunity to eat a Chinese/Peruvian dish that had made its way to Quito. I find it fascinating to see the various cultural spins that have been put on Chinese food as it is spread to other countries. For example, authentic chinese food in China varies significantly from that of American Chinese food which has adapted more so to fit the palettes of Americans. Something I was wondering from reading your article was who runs the Chifa restaurants in Ecuador? Would they be run by Ecuadorians, Peruvians, or Chinese people? Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for sharing your experience with us. I find it so interesting that as people move and migrate, their culture moves with them. Eventually, this culture evolves, and turns into a blend of something more. Everywhere I go I can easily find Chinese food. I can find it in Mexico, in Chicago, in Minneapolis, and even here in Duluth. The movement of people and ideas has spread so far and so fast in such a short amount of time that we can now find things so close to us, that we couldn’t years ago. In one block in downtown Minneapolis you can find foods from everywhere in the world. It is amazing to see cultures that are so far from each other in the world map be right next to each other in places we may call home.
Your article is very interesting! I think it is fascinating to look at specific foods or dishes and figure out their history and how it affects the cultures they are popular in. I never would have thought that there were Chinese immigrants in Peru and enough of them to create their own unique cuisine that began popular in multiple countries. Something else I find interesting is that foods have such a strong part in globalization as different groups of people share their traditional foods. It is cool that you were able to go to Ecuador and notice the “Chinese” foods there and discover the background to that restaurant and cuisine. Thank you for the interesting read and history of Chifa in Ecuador!
Do you think we should adopt this naming style in the US? We think we know what Chinese food is but in reality it has a massive influence from American tastes. Globalization at its finest as we have adopted culture to our own. I think that the influence that immigrants are invaluable to what we could consider American culture. I also think that because of this, we need to respect the massive amount of individual cultures that are present in our country.
Thank you so much for writing this article. That is very interesting learning about Chifa. I would have thought that it was just misspelled right away too. Chinese food is so good, it would be interesting to have it in another country to see if they include different ingredients to make it different. It was interesting learning about the the Chinese immigrants that traveled to Peru. It sounds like you had a great experience in Ecuador and you are very lucky you got to travel. If I every make it to Peru or Ecuador I will have to try their Chifa. Thanks again for this article it was fun learning.
Hello Megan, thank you for sharing your experience with us. It was interesting reading about how different countries take on Chinese food. Especially when you contrast it with American-Chinese food. There was an obvious difference that varied from Ecuadorian-Chinese vs Americanized Chinese. What stuck out most to me was the caloric difference between the two. America seems to put a lot more meat and other fattening ingredients into the meals. I think this speaks a lot on the cultural differences between Ecuador and America. Going off of that, I was not aware of the different sizes of the meals throughout the day. Perhaps we, as Americans, have a bit to learn off of such areas of the world.
Thank you for sharing your culinary experience of Ecuador with us. I find it interesting how they eat varying food sizes with each meal. Continuing with that thought, I could not help but notice the drastic difference between American-Chinese food and Ecuadorian-Chinese food. I could not help but think that the variations are stemmed in the cultural differences between Ecuador and America. In general, I would think that America’s take on Chinese food would contain a bit more protein, usually in the form of meat. In contrast, Ecuador has a larger focus on rice and vegetables. A question this brought up to me concerned the accessibility to meat in both countries. Does Ecuador have a similar access to meat as does America? Or is meat used more sparsely for culinary uses? These differences in food practices reflects a difference of culture between the two countries and I think that food would be a great intro into learning about the way of life between the countries.
This was a very interesting article to read for me. During high school I had studied abroad in Peru for a semester of my Sophomore year and I had found myself falling in love with the rich Peruvian culture. One thing I miss more than anything was the delicious at home cooked meals made by my host family. They wished to have us well versed on Peruvian cuisine so every day we were presented with an entirely new meal. However, this is the first I am hearing of this Chifa dish, I was aware of a large Japenese population in Peru but this is the first I am hearing of a large Chinese population and influence in the culture. Thank you for giving me this aspect of the Peruvian culture that was unknown to me. Hopefully one day when I find myself returning to Peru i will get to try some Chifa.
This is such an interesting read. It’s interesting to think about how what seemed to be a misspelling prompted you to research the history of the cuisine. The results of your research are quite interesting to read about as well. The history of Chifa was very intriguing. It’s amazing to think about how things like food can connect people from all around the world.
Thanks for sharing your story and your research!
Thank you so much for sharing about your experience while studying abroad! I really appreciated your comparison of the Peruvian language and how that translates to fried rice. It’s so interesting to me to see that it is a global phenomenon to eat a sort of “fried rice” and it makes me wonder its origins. In west Africa there is Jollof rice which is a similar sort of dish. And just like in South America, within west Africa we have riz sautée in Cameroon, Nigerian, Ghanaian, Liberian and other sorts of fried jollof rice!
I guess I’ve never thought about how widespread Chinese cuisine is. When you think of Latin America you don’t really think of that sort of thing. But when I really think about it, it starts to make more sense. Immigrants from Asia can be found in a lot of countries, I met some in Spain even. Your article just reminds me of how interconnected everyone is now.
Thank you for sharing your experience! One of the comments above asked what makes Chinese food really Chinese food? I really liked this question and had been thinking about it while reading your article. Does Chinese food need to be made in China to be considered actual Chinese food? The Chinese restaurants around Duluth claim to be real and authentic, but would someone from China agree? The same thing goes for American restaurants in China, is it really American food? Do certain ethnic groups around the world have a cultural bias when it comes to others imitating their cultural food?
I think the history of foods and dishes can be so interesting! I bet that staying with a host family while studying abroad was an amazing experience. I was able to study abroad in London for just a few weeks this past summer and every time we ate it was always either a small or sometimes large group of us students from CSS. I believe that eating together as a group and sharing conversation can bond a group, so while it was awesome we were able to eat together, I think it would’ve been even better had we had a group of locals with us. It’s awesome that you had that local connection to learn from in Ecuador. Thank you for sharing this history and your experiences!
Thank you so much for sharing your experience! I think it is incredible how one can trace the movement of people with the history of food! It is also incredible how cultures blend to create amazing new dishes!
Your article is very interesting and it made me wonder how many “China town’s” exist all over the world and how they vary from city to city. I wonder if the interpretations of Chinese food in New York, San Francisco, Stockholm, Quito and Lima are all varied and if that has more to do with the taste preferences of the area, the people who brought over the cuisine and introduced it to the area, or the changes over generations by restaurant owners. It amazes me how food and their names come to be. Reading this article made me think how small the world feels sometimes with so much connection in likeminded food yet very vast with the different interpretations and variances. Thank you for sharing.
What an interesting experience you had. The fusion restaurants we have here in the states are often what we think to be “traditional” Mexican or Asian cuisine, but they are often altered to incorporate different elements. In reality, we are really having Tex-Mex or Americanized Chinese food. It fascinating how other countries structure their meals. Having bread and tea for dinner sounds so different to me seeing as dinner is usually the large meal for my family. I agree with you that it is a special experience to sit down and share a meal once a night as a family.
Studying abroad in Ecuador sounds so exciting! I am a huge food fanatic, so this experience would’ve been really great for me. Fusion restaurants are such an interesting idea and the one you experience with Chinese and Peruvian food must have been different from anything you’ve ever tasted. There are China Towns all around the world, and I have been to many of them. They are all different, but at the same time very similar to one another, in the way the Chinese culture is displayed. I love that your host family sat down every day for dinner regardless of if it was something intricate or simple. It shows how much the culture values each other and their family time.