It is funny in the food world how trends come and go, yet some dishes fly just under the radar. Ceviche is a dish that continues to be interesting but has yet to reach the cross-cultural influence that, say, sushi has. The origins of both are not as far-flung as you might think; ceviche is a blend of the Asian and Spanish influence that came together in Peru.
The popularity of sushi in the US over the last ten years is nothing short of amazing; you can find it in virtually every supermarket and college meal plan. Ceviche, although similar in so many ways, is currently still relegated to South American menus available in and around larger U.S. cities that have South American and/or well-traveled populations.
Despite its origins in Peru, ceviche has truly become representative of Latin American cuisine as a whole. Peruvian cuisine is itself an amalgam of the foods consumed by Asian, Spanish, Creole, and indigenous populations of the region. (This is also keeping in mind that many cultures have a history of eating some type of raw fish or food and have also marinated their foods with citrus. Carpaccio is one such item and escabeche is popular in Spanish cuisine but most likely hails from Persia).
Ceviche is by definition typically a seafood item that has been marinated with a citrus juice and then allowed to sit for a short time while the seafood proteins become de-natured and essentially “cook” the item, rendering it reasonably free of dangerous bacteria. While this may be an oversimplification, it is in a nutshell how it happens, and the myriad of recipes within just the country of Peru is indicative of the many possible ways to prepare the dish.
The most common way to prepare ceviche is to cut a fish and/or shellfish into small, evenly sized pieces. The seafood is then typically coated in lime juice, salt and red onions are added, and from there it can go in pretty much any direction you can think of. In the northern part of Peru, people typically then add chopped celery. In Lima, they use local ají peppers and often a large-kernel local corn that is very sweet.
One favorite and lesser-known variation of sushi is tiradito, usually a white fish or octopus sliced in the same manner as sashimi. The fish or octopus is cut into extremely thin slices, seasoned with salt, and then lightly coated with lime juice in the same manner as traditional ceviche. It almost never involves onions as ceviche does. There is a version of tiradito that adds a light coating of fresh heavy cream in addition to the lime and salt, and it is truly amazing. This just shows that ceviche, when made utilizing some basic fundamentals, can be adapted in many ways according to your personal taste.
Interested in making your own Peruvian-inspired ceviche? Try our recipe for Ceviche Tradicional con Leche de Tigre (Peruvian Ceviche with Leche de Tigre).