Change from 100: Chifa Man San

Expecting the unexpected has to be my number-one reason for living in Buenos Aires. You never quite know what is round the corner, whether you stumble across an old-style café doubling up as an antique telephone museum (Colegiales), or stumble over the black-plastic-bag guy who has made Santa Fe Avenue his home (Barrio Norte).

And despite the pitfalls and obstacles that hamper us all — don‘t get me started about my Banco Macro debit card, or the day that Easy Pay (Pago Fácil) became the most difficult payment of my life to make — it’s these little unexpected things that make me happy.

Take an email I received a few weeks ago from a former Herald colleague. “Dear Sorrel, Please come to my book launch party, because you feature in my book.” I was gobsmacked to say the least, slightly smug and extremely curious all in one go. But it turned out I am one of many characters in this short book called Red social (Social Network). An interlinking series of friendships and acquaintances brings one person in touch with another friend — in fact my link is the editor of Forbes Argentina magazine, while I pass the baton on to the producer of the radio show I used to present. And so the connections continue.

Given that the Budget was interfering with my own social network, I turned up later than planned but my Facebook friend, Twitter follower and real-life friend Belu was waiting for me. “Let‘s get something to eat,” she croaked hungrily, to which I piped up, let’s go to Gran Parrilla del Plata, my absolute favourite steakerie in the city, given that we were in my former stomping-ground San Telmo.

She was having none of it and then of course the centavo dropped: she wanted a slice of Man San action.

Forgotten friend
Frankly I couldn‘t believe that I had forgotten that this Peruvian-Chinese chifa restaurant hadn’t been the first to make it into the Change From 100 series.

A couple of years ago, a three-course lunch there set up back a whopping 12 pesos. Yes sir, that even gave you change back from 15 pesos. These days, the lunch menu which may include soup, spring rolls and a rice dish is more like 23 pesos, and that in itself still represents good value to me.

You never forget your first chifa. I was overwhelmed at the mashed-up menu, the distinctive Asian rice and noodle dishes nestled alongside battered fish (jalea) and ceviche on the menu. And now I can say it like it doesn’t mean anything, but when I saw spring rolls on that menu, I thought I’d gone to heaven. This was a whole new blended food culture I’d never before set eyes on, and was calling out to be tried, tasted and digested.

In fact the first time I went Man San was also in honour of someone else’s book launch. I was either late for the launch or early for the dinner and wandered into the rather shabby-looking joint that those not in the know might consider to be a tad ghetto. The lights were dimmed, an enormous photo painting of Machu Pichu dominated the left wall and that time, there wasn’t any loo roll. Or loo seat.

Despite these little indiscrepencies, the ceviche was abundant and fresh, the noodles perfect for slurping up then down, and the boneless jalea freshly battered and completely delicious. Accompanied by an additional truckload of beer, I think I paid about 25 pesos two years ago and rolled my way home.

Chifa describes the combo of Peruvian and Chinese foods served up in Peru, a fusion created by Chinese immigrants who made Peru their home in the last century and the blending of basic Chinese ingredients such as rice or noodles with local Peruvian ones has lasted. According to one website, chifa may mean “to eat rice” in Mandarin although the term is also used now to describe the fusion-style restaurant, of which you can find plenty dotted around Buenos Aires.

The upshot is this. Although Rosita, Man San’s only waitress, had a face like thunder on Wednesday night (a sign of weathery things to come on Thursday), she is normally adorably friendly. Fact. And there was loo roll on Wednesday. Second fact. But the main event is the price. Granted, Belu and I between us didn’t require a beefy, ricey mountain of food each slathered in spicy green hot sauce, but we almost struggled to finish the five beef spring rolls, the beef chau fan and the pièce de résistance, a litre of beer.

That’s right, we spent 64 pesos which meant our change from 100 and even included alcohol was 36 pesos. A hungrier dining partner could order their (his) own chicken, or vegetable, or mixed chau fan rice dish for 29 pesos, and there’d still be change. If only taxi fares hadn’t gone up in price two weeks ago, I could have got a cab home with it.

Change from 100 pesos dinner for two at Man San: 36 pesos
Chifa Man San
Peru 832, San Telmo

Published in the Buenos Aires Herald December 19, 2011
Photo by Diego Kovacic

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