Many Chinese immigrants left their homeland in the late 1800s to escape the ravages of war, political corruption, and starvation. Some came to the United States, where they worked on railroads and in mines and adapted their cuisines to the American palate, inventing dishes like chop suey, chow mein, and honey garlic chicken (deep-fried and served in a thick sweet sauce for our Western tastes). But Chinese traveled everywhere — Australia, Southeast Asia, South Africa.
Some went to Peru.
There, they invented chifa — a fusion of Chinese and Peruvian foods.
After operating for about 25 years in a sleepy shopping center across from the Broward Community College Central Campus, Wings Chinese Restaurant started serving chifa just three years ago.
Even though Peruvian customers had been requesting chifa for years, the evolution from American Chinese to combination restaurant happened almost by accident.
"Mr. Hee" had moved to Peru to expedite the immigration process. Because of quotas, getting approved for a U.S. green card from China can take ten years; from smaller countries in South America or Asia, the process can be sped up to five years. For the five years he spent in Peru, Hee worked in a Peruvian Chinese restaurant, learning to cook chifa for locals.
Upon arriving in South Florida, Hee made a trip to Wings in search of a job. At the time, owner Lily Moi told him she wasn't looking to hire but was interested in making changes to the menu. Customers from Peru overheard the conversation while dining in the restaurant; they asked Hee to cook chifa.
He did, and they apparently loved it.
A week later, Hee was hired, and he's been serving adoring Peruvian fans ever since.
Arroz chaufa con pollo ($8) is like chicken fried rice but firmer and with a stronger umami flavor. Soy sauce colors and flavors the dish, as opposed to an ingredient called egg color commonly used in American Chinese. This makes the dish more brown than yellow. It is composed of mostly rice with egg, large chunks of chicken, and some freshly chopped green onion.
Tallarín saltado ($11.95) is a heaping plate of soft noodles with roasted pork, shrimp, and vegetables in a thick soy and oyster sauce. The pork is encircled by a red ring from the sweet and spicy five-spice rub; earthy notes of ginger infuse the dish.
Wonton frito ($4.95) comes with a dozen thin and crispy wontons and a sweet and sour sauce made from tamarind. These slim strips of slightly sweet dough have a small pocket of pork tucked into one end.
Everything is served in massive portions.
Wings' manager, Sam Moy, says that while chifa is more reminiscent of traditional Cantonese than American Chinese, it's the portion size and large servings of meat that differ.
"The culture is different," says Moy. "Cantonese uses a lot more vegetables, but the flavors of chifa are more similar. American Chinese uses mostly garlic; chifa uses mostly ginger; Cantonese uses both. The dishes are more simplified versions of Cantonese, but the Peruvian portions are much larger." He laughs.
Make sure to ask for the Peruvian menu; it's in Spanish, but the staff can help you order.
Wings offers eat-in, takeout, and delivery for a three-mile radius.