Chifa Man-San: San Telmo’s Chinese-Peruvian Greasy Spoon
Chifa Man-San, a Peruvian-Chinese restaurant is an enduring budget favorite, serendipitously located on Perú Street in San Telmo. Here you’ll dine among Peruvian families, foreigners on a shoestring and artisans from the San Telmo Street Fair having a bite to eat after a day selling their wares.
The word ‘Chifa’ comes from the Mandarin ‘chi1 fan4,’ meaning ‘to eat food,’ but it specifically refers to the Peruvian version of Chinese food that puts a distinctly South American spin on the original.
Owner and chef, Fabio Alberco started his career in the Chinese kitchens of Lima as a teenager, later working as a cook at the Peruvian embassy in Buenos Aires. He opened Chifa Man-San seven years ago, enabling him to employ his brothers, sons and friends of the family.
In a recent upgrade Chifa Man-San has replaced the awful florescent tube lighting with red paper lamps, given the place a new paint job and starting paying attention to previously overlooked details such as supplying the bathrooms with soap. The creaky slate floors remain but the makeover improves the previously harsh ambiance, brightly incorporating communist red with golden yellow and walls adorned with Incan-style motifs and peaceful pictures of Machu Pichu.
The prices, especially for seafood dishes, have sailed upwards over the years, but Man-San is still a dependable place to find generously portioned plates starting at the 22-peso mark.
On a winter days the soups, including the sopa de wantan especial (special wantan soup) and the sweet and sour, sopa de ocho sabores (eight flavor soup) along with a fresh shrimp or chicken salad are a good value for a light lunch or dinner.
When it comes to the regular menu you have to choose carefully at Man-San because the dishes range from lamentable to spectacular. Skip the unnecessarily greasy chop suey and chau mien. The best dishes are the abundant seafood and ‘special menu’ plates featuring Chifa specials such as spicy ceviche, pato asado con ajo – (barbequed duck with garlic), chancho con tamarind (pork with tamarind sauce) and chifa–style lomo saltado (strips of tenderloin steak sauteed with onions, hot peppers and tomatoes and served over rice with fries).
Those looking for some spice should be sure to request some salsa verde, the addictive cilantro-based green stuff found on dinner tables across Peru.
Depending on the how busy Man-San is and how many people are working the floor, the service here can range from super slow to fast and efficient, but it is always friendly —after a couple of visits you’re sure to be recognized.
For groups of three or more it’s worth splurging on the flavorful seafood extravaganza, felicidad para todos (happiness for everyone), a heaping seafood orgy that delivers on its name.
There’s no great wine list at this hole in the wall, but they usually have pisco sours, a frothy cocktail made with the Peruvian brandy, pisco, lime juice, egg whites and sugar. There are only a couple of varieties of beer in stock, including the brown Quilmes Bock and sweeter Quilmes Stout. Kids will go crazy for the cavity-inducing bright yellow Inca Kola, of a South American version of Mountain Dew made from the lemon verbena shrub.
• Hours: Mon-Fri: 12pm-4:30; 7:00-11:30pm
Sat: 12pm-5pm, 7pm—12am
• cash only