Ming Yuen is an Asian fusion joint in El Monte, but it's a far cry from the Americanized platters of kung pao chicken and chop suey that typically come to mind when the word “fusion” is invoked. Chef Jose Tam and his family, Chinese in descent, are restaurateurs from Peru, where there's a significant Cantonese-Chinese immigrant population.
The family-owned restaurant specializes in Peruvian Chinese food. Peruvian classics such as arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) and estofado de pollo (chicken stew) grace the menu, but the dishes are prepared with a Cantonese twist – or, as Peruvians call it, chifa-style. The word chifa is a play on the Chinese words chi fan (to eat rice).
Chifa food took off in the 1920s in Lima, Peru, a product of the Cantonese immigrants in the area who didn't have access to traditional Chinese ingredients. The differences are subtle.
“Some dishes traditionally call for parsley; we use green onions,” Nelly Tam, Jose's daughter, explained. Also, whereas the Peruvian style of cooking calls for cooking various ingredients separately, Chinese-Peruvian chefs tend to stir-fry everything together in one go.
True to their Cantonese roots, the Tams also offer strictly Chinese dishes, such as wonton soup and pan-fried noodles – but it's the chifa portion of the menu that's the strongest. Try the lomo saltado, lean beef sautéed with French fries and soy sauce; and the arroz chaufa, which is essentially fried rice, but with the rice prepared South American–style.
There are a lot of Latin flavors in Ming Yuen and the specials board is entirely in Spanish. You can, by the way, speak to the family in English, Cantonese, Mandarin or Spanish. Like the food, they too come from an incredibly diverse background.
Ming Yuen: 10053 Valley Blvd., Suite 2-3, El Monte; (626) 433-0498.