Ceviche is raw seafood cured with fresh lemon or lime juice. As a raw dish, it is not actually cooked. The citric acids in the juices break down seafood proteins in the same way that cooking does.
Our favorite ceviche restaurant in New York City used to call the juices tiger milk. It was rich like you would imagine tiger milk to be.
A traditional recipe uses ocean fish filets, lime juice, white onion, tomatoes, bell peppers, green chiles or jalapenos, cilantro, and green olives seasoned with salt, olive oil and orange juice.
In South America and the Caribbean, we use ají which is a kind of pepper that combines the fresh flavor of bell peppers with a little hot spice. We never saw ají in New York or the United States, but it’s one of our favorite Caribbean vegetables.
National Ceviche Day
June 28 is National Ceviche Day.
Today ceviche is traditional all along the Pacific Coast of the Americas. Whether or not it originated in Peru, ceviche is the Peruvian national dish. Some form of it has been eaten in Peru for almost two thousand years.
There is also a Philippine ceviche called Kinilaw that predates the Colonial Period. The Pacific Spanish galleon route sailed between Acapulco, Mexico and Manila, Philippines, so ceviche may originally be Filipino. The combination of sour, salty and spicy flavors tastes very Southeast Asian.
Ceviche may be Moorish too. The rationale for this idea is that lemons and limes came to the Americas from Europe. Arab traders brought lemons from China and limes from India and Indonesia.
Spanish colonizers sailed from Cádiz in Andalusía, Spain. Some say that Moorish women who traveled with the colonizers brought ceviche to Lima.
Ferran Adrià, the Spaniard who is considered one of the world’s top chefs, says that ceviche is Peruvian. It doesn’t really matter. Our common humanity is what is special.
Ceviche probably originated in several places. Humans do similar things around the world and across time – because we are human. Across history, many ideas show up spontaneously in two completely different places at around the same time. Maybe because we are all connected somehow.
Capital Traditions Spread Around the Empire
In the same way that Spanish colonizers controlled Central America from Mexico City, they originally controlled South America from Lima on the Peruvian coast.
Whatever happened in the capital influenced other regions in the empire. This may have spread ceviche throughout the Pacific Coast of the Americas.
Ceviche and Pisco can Change Your Life
Ceviche goes really well with Pisco, the Peruvian brandy. Distilling wine into brandy made it easier to ship. Pisco also made the journey around the empire. Peruvian pisco was the most popular drink in San Francisco during the California Gold Rush.
A ceviche and two piscos can change your life. [EDITOR: They changed mine, once upon a time in the Colombian Andes.]