The history behind Ceviche
Peru’s national dish is a genuine local creation, but with influences from as far afield as Spain and Japan.
Even today, the dish is still changing subtly, as new generations of talented Peruvian chefs continue to search for ways to improve it.
Former Peruvian president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski remarked that ceviche, the marinated seafood salad that is the national dish here, was actually a Japanese creation. Needless to say, his remarks did not go down well in a country that takes its food extremely seriously. As well as being politically clumsy, they were also factually inaccurate. Yet they do contain a kernel of truth; although ceviche is most definitely an authentically Peruvian delicacy, it is one that has been influenced by outsiders, including the Japanese.
What we do know is that locals on what is now the Pacific coast of Peru were eating diced raw fish, freshly caught and dressed with salt and chili peppers, for millennia before the arrival of the conquistadors. Yet it was the Spanish who introduced citrus fruits to Peru, including one of the essential ingredients of modern ceviche, the key lime whose juice is amply dripped onto the fish. There are, famously, a couple of acidic fruits native to Peru whose juice is also suitable for making ceviche, cocona and camu camu. But both of these hail from the Amazon and would likely not have been available to pre-Colombian populations on the coast.
The Japanese, meanwhile, that other people famous for their use of uncooked seafood, have also influenced ceviche in various subtle ways, including its often sophisticated plating. Yet immigrants form the land of the rising sun, who first started arriving in Peru in the mid-19th Century, likely had a greater influence on another Peruvian seafood dish, tiradito, essentially a fish carpaccio. Most Peruvian cevicherias now sell numerous different kinds of ceviche (along with many other seafood dishes), depending on the kind of fish or seafood that is used. One thing virtually all Peruvian ceviches have in common, though, are the sides of choclo, steamed giant corn kernels, and a slab of boiled sweet potato, which perfectly soaks up the ceviche’s tangy juices. Yet even today, ceviche continues to evolve. It is now made in the Amazon using freshwater species.
But perhaps the biggest change of the last couple of decades is the timing; previously it used to be thought that the fish or seafood had to be left to cure in the key lime juice for an hour or two. Now it is all just mixed together and served almost instantly. The doyen of Peruvian ceviche, Javier Wong, usually will whip up a ceviche, including dicing the sole, the only species he uses, in less than five minutes from ordering to serving.
To learn more about ceviche, and of course eat some, as part of your unique, individually tailored Peru itinerary, contact the Peru Empire Company at firstname.lastname@example.org or on +51-1-700-5100 or, if you are in the US, 347-713-7030/34.