While in Lima, I ate ceviche every day for lunch. I wasn’t looking for the absolute best in all of Lima. That would take far too much time. Furthermore, it would possibly prove to be a never-ending goal; it seems that every conversation I have with Peruvians about the topic leads to new recommendations for more places to try. Trying as much Peruvian ceviche as possible in a short period of time helped me get a sense of the range of possibilities.
Even if I wanted to compare two ceviches, it would be far too difficult since there are so many dimensions to consider, from the type of fish used and the way everything is sliced to the little details like how the cancha is toasted. However, I think there are a few essential qualities that make a ceviche good.
1) Fresh Seafood
Being next to the ocean, it’s no surprise that Lima has a plethora of restaurants serving the world’s best ceviche. In Lima where virtually all of the seafood is fresh, cevicherias can set themselves apart by showcasing how varied their fresh seafood offering is. Small cevicherias will offer one type of fish but the established cevicherias will offer a vast menu of fresh seafood from conchitas negras to sea cucumber to fish from the jungle.
It may seem obvious that fresh seafood makes good Peruvian ceviche, but this is something that is often neglected in less scrupulous cevicherias and exported Peruvian food where ceviche becomes a way to get rid of ingredients rather than highlighting them. The need for freshness extends to every ingredient. There’s simply no room in a plate of ceviche for subpar ingredients to hide.
Limes were one of my favorite ingredients of all time even before I tried ceviche. Ceviche made me appreciate them even more. Limes are a fundamental ingredient in ceviche, but they cannot be taken for granted. They are not only a distinct flavor component that unites all of the other elements but also serve to “cook” the seafood, transforming its texture into what we know and love.
The limes in Peru are of a different variety than the supermarket variety and have a unique flavor, somewhat like key limes. The limes are one of the reasons that ceviche outside Peru will never be the same.
One of the most surprising things I realized when I first tasted the ceviche in Peru was how important texture is. Common elements in ceviche include choclo (corn), chicharrones (fried fish), and camote (sweet potato) which all have dual uses, providing flavors to contrast the acidity of the limes while adding to the spectrum of textures represented. The variety of textures in a plate of ceviche is one of the aspects of ceviche that makes digging into a plate of ceviche so pleasurable.
In the end, I think the ultimate test for good Peruvian ceviche is how well it ties everything together-the various elements of the sea, the flavors, and all of the textures.
It’s your turn to try Peruvian ceviche!
Ceviche is everywhere in Lima so it’s almost impossible to miss. Though primarily a lunch dish, you can find a cevicheria in almost any street. If you are in a rush or care less about ambience (which in my opinion is a big part of the experience), you can sit down at a market stall for a plate of fresh ceviche at a bargain price. Almost any Peruvian will be able to whip up a decent ceviche in half an hour. While doing so, they might also recommend their favorite places for you to try.
Don’t limit yourself to Lima either. There are many different regional varieties, and ceviche is a dish that lends itself to culinary innovation which explains its popularity in trendy restaurants Lima and abroad.
So, what do you think makes a good ceviche? Please add your thoughts to the comments section.
You can find more photos and thoughts on ceviche and other Peruvian delicacies at https://www.instagram.com/projectdinnerparty/.