“Have you tried the ceviche?” This is invariably one of the first questions Peruvians ask upon meeting a foreigner. Surely the best known Peruvian food, ceviche is a source of pride here, especially on the coast where seafood is fresh and plentiful. I hadn’t been here long before I tried this delicacy, and soon was as much in love with its spicy goodness as any native Peruvian. Since that first time five years ago, I’ve learned quite a bit about this most loved of Peruvian foods.
Peruvian Food – What is Ceviche?
The origin of the name ‘ceviche’ is under debate – while some say that it comes from the ancient Quechua language of Peru, others believe it’s from the Spanish ‘escabeche‘, which means marinade. This makes sense to me, because ceviche (also spelled cebiche or seviche) is made from fish or shellfish marinated in a citrus base. The fish is not cooked in the traditional way, over heat – instead, the acids in the marinade denature the proteins in the fish, turning it opaque and ‘cooking’ it in that way.
Peruvian Food – Who Invented Ceviche?
But where did ceviche itself come from? That’s another question whose answer is under dispute. Some claim that the Spanish brought the dish to the New World, but there are records that show the Incas were enjoying a similar dish long before the Conquistadors arrived. Ancient Peruvian cultures marinated their fish in ‘chicha’, a fermented corn beverage, as long as 2000 years ago, but it was later, when the Spanish brought limes and onions with them, that a marriage of the two styles created the ceviche that is enjoyed throughout Peru today.
Peruvian Food – How Is Ceviche Prepared?
Ceviche is served in many different ways through out South and Central America, but I prefer the Peruvian style. While any mixture of fish or shellfish can be used, the most popular is ‘ceviche de pescado’ – a ceviche made of mild white fish, marinated in lime juice with ‘aji’ (Peruvian chilies) and thinly sliced red onion. It’s a favorite at lunch time, when the fish is still fresh off the boat. It’s especially popular on weekend mornings; the juice from the ceviche, called ‘leche de tigre’ or tiger’s milk, is a supposed cure for hangovers. Typically in Peru, the dish is served with boiled sweet potato and ‘cancha’ – large Andean corn kernels that have been toasted and salted.
If you find yourself eager to try ceviche but don’t want to wait to come to Peru, don’t fret – making it for yourself is as easy as juicing a few limes. Here is my recipe for Ceviche for Two.
½ lb filet of mild white fish – use something with a firm flesh, Chilean sea bass is preferred
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 aji limo or aji rocoto, in thin slices – check in your local Latin market
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
Juice of 5 key limes.
A few sprigs of fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped (optional)
Salt to taste
1) Rinse and dry the fish, then cut up into 1/2″ pieces. Place in a deep casserole dish.
2) Top the fish with the onion slices, the aji, the garlic, and the cilantro if desired.
3) Sprinkle with salt
4) Cover with lime juice – stir to moisten all the fish
5) Let marinate for 10 minutes. When the fish starts turning white, it’s ready to serve.
Ceviche is considered the royal crown of Peruvian food. I hope you’ll be able to come to Peru one day, and enjoy it in one of our many ‘cevicherias’, but until that day, enjoy making your own – and maybe some other Peruvian food too.
Source: Ceviche, seviche, cebiche, history, What’sCookingAmerica.net