Lomo Saltado, a stir-fried beef dish found all across Peru, was born on Calle La Concepción in Lima, Peru’s Barrio Chino. The now pedestrian-only street, its name changed to Calle Capón, has become a tourist attraction. It has a gate at the entrance just like many of the world’s other Chinatowns and it is lined with shops selling kitchen products and imported food items and pirated DVDs, and restaurants where roasted ducks hang in the windows.
Lima’s Chinatown has a storied past that dates to the mid to late 1800’s when an influx of mostly Cantonese immigrants began to flock to Peru to work on the railroads, the guano islands, and coastal plantations after the abolition of slavery in the country. During the transpacific voyage many of these immigrants worked as cooks, a job they continued when they reached land. Sometime in the 1920’s, after offices for Chinese import companies like the Wing Fat Co. and the Wo Chong Co. opened, the first Chinese restaurants began to appear, and the Barrio Chino took shape.
On Calle Capón, as well as in most chifas – the Peruvian word for Chinese restaurants in the country – lomo saltado simply means stir-fried beef. It is a direct translation from Spanish and the dish is the same as the stir-fried beef that’s on any Cantonese menu in New York or Jamaica. Thin slices of beef that have been marinated in vinegar, soy sauce, and spices are stir fried in a wok with onions and are served family style on a big plate. Scoop a pile of rice on your dish from a bowl served on the side and spoon the beef and juices on top of it. Lunch is served and usually with a bottle of neon yellow Inca Cola.
Lomo Saltado is one of the few items from a chifa menu (along with arroz chaufa, or fried rice, and a few others) that has spread to non-Chinese menus in Peru. When the leap was made culinary fusion took place that adapted the recipe to the national palate. The criolla version of the dish uses the same onions and sliced beef, but also adds tomato, ají amarillo, cilantro, and fried potatoes. Depending on where it is served everything comes on the plate either directly on top of the rice or in close piles where the soy sauce and juices from the meat soak into the rice and fries. The dish appeared as early as 1903 in the Peruvian cookbook Nuevo Manual de Cocina a la Criolla, though it is a simple Cantonese version that lacks ají amarillo and potatoes. No one knows the exact date or location that the criolla version was created, though it was likely that it was something that developed over years and decades.
While you can find the standard recipe served in homes and restaurants throughout the country, some minor variations do exist. Some upmarket restuarants might use lomo fino, or tenderloin, while others might swap in mushrooms for beef. Others will replace the vinegar with red wine or beer.
Isolina: A Barranco standby with a soulful and oversized lomo saltado served in a large bowl meant for sharing.
Jose Antonio: Standard ingredients in a recipe that has not changed in forty years.
El Grifo: A great value, straightforward from a mini-chain that began in a gas station and now has a few locations around Lima.
Panchita: Their version adds choclo (corn) in with the rice.
Header image courtesy Christopher Plunkett / Prom Peru.