While ceviche (also spelt cebiche, in Peru) can be found throughout Latin America, from Mexico to Chile, and especially along its Pacific coastline, it has arguably found its finest expression in Peru, where it is the iconic national dish – uncooked, marinated fish served with camote (sweet potato) and choclo (corn on the cob).
Most often it is eaten for lunch on the coast, using the freshest catch of the day. The lime and pepper marinade - which is known as leche de tigre (tiger's milk) and considered an aphrodisiac - works to 'cook' the fish. Popular ocean fish are lenguado (sole, flounder) or corvina (white sea bass), which can be added to by a variety of mariscos (squid, prawns, octopus, and various shellfish) to create ceviche mixto ... my personal favourite.
Be warned that Peruvians generally like their ceviche picante (spicy), with plenty of chopped-up aji (chili peppers) mixed in with the seafood. Moreover, there is often a slice of rocoto (hot pepper) placed on top of the dish, which looks confusingly similar to a slice of tomato, and has burnt the mouth of many an unsuspecting tourist!
However, you have the option of no or a small amount of spiciness, and the waiter or waitress will generally ask you how you like your ceviche. My suggestion is to err on the side of caution!
The coastal cities of northern Peru, such as Chiclayo and Piura, have deservedly good reputations for the quality of the ceviche found there; while Lima, with its booming gastronomic scene and location on the Pacific coast, has plenty of cevicherias with superb seafood.
In the highlands, trout ceviche is occasionally served, and in the Amazon region various river fish are used, especially the giant arapaima (also called the paiche).
Ingredients of a classic ceviche de pescado:
1/2 kg (1 lb) of fish, washed in cold water and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 medium red onion, finely sliced
2 hot peppers, de-veined, de-seeded, and sliced
1 sprig of coriander, finely chopped (optional)
1 small clove of garlic, finely chopped (optional)
1 sprig parsley, finely chopped (optional)
¼ tsp salt
2 cobs of corn, halved
How to prepare:
It is not a difficult dish to prepare, but the true skill lies in choosing the freshest fish and shellfish with which to prepare the ceviche.
Mix the fish, lime juice, peppers, salt, and garlic and refrigerate for 20 – 40 minutes. Add the onion, coriander, (chili pepper, if wanting spiciness), and parsley. Serve on a bed of lettuce.
Separately, boil the cobs of corn and sweet potatoes, let cool, and serve cold with the ceviche.
NB. A cookery class where you can prepare - and then eat - your own ceviche, under the guidance of a chef, is included in our Lima Gastronomy 4D itinerary.