The Fresh Flavors of Peruvian Ceviche

Peruvian ceviche

For those who have been to Peru, you may not have such fond memories of the selection of local food. Every menu has numerous variations on the combination of chicken and rice, making it quite bland to choose from. However, one of the country’s most famous dishes, Peruvian ceviche, serves as the country’s culinary saving grace.

There are several different places where ceviche is also found, such as Ecuador and Mexico, but it seems to be widely recognised as originating from Peru. Almost every traveler I met during my trails in South America was aching to get to a coastal town in Peru for two things – the surf and the ceviche. This hugely popular dish demands freshly caught fish and seafood, so fresh that the good restaurants that specialise in ceviche (or a ‘cevicheria’) won’t even make it from the catch procured the previous day. If it wasn’t swimming in the ocean that very morning, it’s not good enough.

The essential part of ceviche is fresh raw fish, marinated in citrus juices, to create that classic fish flavour with a sharp tang. There is no cooking process involved, as it is said that the proteins in the fish are adjusted by the juices in the marinating process, the end product being similar to the act of cooking. It was said that thousands of years ago the Incas preserved their fish in these juices, the fruit of which was bought over from Spain to the Latin Americas. Ceviche then evolved with Peru, and the country added chilies and red onion to their classic recipe.

Chefs tend to use white fish that is meaty enough to remain juicy after marinating, the most successful being sea bass or sole, but plaice, pollock or even salmon have also been tried and tested. Less muscly fish has been known to dissolve in the marinating process and becomes flaky or dry. The most common fruit used is lime, but you will also find lemon juice and sometimes even oranges used to marinate the fish, but the latter leaves a rather odd and unorthodox taste.

The chilies and red onion are a classic Peruvian addition, along with sides such as sweet potato and ‘choclo’, which is like over-sized, pale yellow corn. The dish is also topped off with some coriander or parsley to add some extra bite. Ecuadorians serve ceviche with shrimp and a tomato-based sauce, but as I saw so much made with just citrus juices in Peru, it seemed like the greatest of sins to make it with tomato. Ceviche has become increasingly trendy outside of Latin America, and chefs have started to experiment with various ingredients to get more creative with the dish. Avocado and celery are popular additions, but you might also find other seafood such octopus thrown in, too.

Peruvian ceviche is often eaten as part of lunch, or as a small starter. Due to the zingy and light nature of the dish you wouldn’t see people chowing down on a huge plate as a main course. Serious ceviche-lovers could also try drinking the marinade juice, otherwise known as ‘leche de tigre’ or ‘tiger’s milk’. This is often stained pink because of the chilies used, and sometimes mixed with vodka to create a so-called hangover cure. I can only imagine that the fish and citrus flavours are a little overwhelming in the tiger’s milk, so if I were you, I would just stick to the subtle masterpiece of ceviche itself.


Emma Higgins has been writing and traveling on and off since 2009. Her blog, Gotta Keep Movin’ is full of stories and advice from her trips, which include Europe, India, Morocco, South America, the USA and Canada. Her main focuses are budget travel and volunteering, and she has been involved in sustainable farming in Argentina, animal shelters in Peru, and even tried her hand at making goats cheese in British Columbia. Follow her travels on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Categories: Food

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