Ceviche: A Dish with Many Personalities

By Lauren Herber, Editor-in-Chief

Sonora, Mexico. Courtesy Lauren Herber
Sonora, Mexico. Courtesy Lauren Herber

Last month I traveled to Sonora, Mexico for Labor Day weekend. One of the members of my cohort, Tomás Thomas (MAGAM ’17, Mexico), brought a group of T-birds from Phoenix and showed us his home town of Guaymas. The weekend was truly an escape to paradise, filled with moonlit midnight swims in the bay, boat excursions, snorkeling in the crystal clear water, and, of course, delicious food. Tomás’ mother and abuelita (grandmother) welcomed us to their home on the night of our arrival with a meal of homemade tacos with fresh pulpo (octopus). Due to Guaymas’ proximity to the ocean, fresh seafood is a staple of the local diet. As a seafood lover, I was in heaven: fresh pulpo, pescado (fish), and gambas (shrimp) for every meal. I had seafood tacos, seafood quesadillas, and, of course, ceviche.

Ceviche is a dish made with fresh raw seafood cured in citrus juice, such as lemon or lime. It is often seasoned with chili peppers, onion, cilantro, and other spices. Its origins are disputed, but ceviche has been a staple dish in many countries in South and Latin America for centuries. Ceviche varies widely from country to country in the seafood used in its preparation, the ingredients chosen to add flavor, and what types of accompanying food it is served with.

When I came back to campus, I raved about the fresh ceviche I ate in Mexico to the Das Tor team at our weekly meeting. When I announced my intention to write a Das Tor article about ceviche, staff writer Laura Aviles was adamant that I try ceviche in the style of her home country, Peru, before writing the article. Who was I to say no? The more market research, the better, right?

In order to give me an opportunity to sample Lima-style ceviche (and to celebrate Mistura, a Peruvian food festival that happens every September), Laura planned a Das Tor team dinner at El Chullo, an authentic Peruvian restaurant in central Phoenix. We sampled many traditional dishes, including lomo saltado and ají de gallina, accompanied by Peru’s signature beverage, Pisco Sours. But most important, of course, was the ceviche.

Mexican ceviche. Courtesy Chowhound
Mexican ceviche. Courtesy Chowhound

Mexican ceviche and Peruvian ceviche are quite different dishes. Shrimp, octopus, squid, and fish are typically used as the base for Mexican ceviche. It is usually flavored with a combination of salt, onion, lime, cilantro, avocado, and chili peppers. Mexican ceviche is often served in little cocktail cups with tostadas, or crackers/chips.

Peruvian ceviche. Courtesy Dishmaps
Peruvian ceviche. Courtesy Dishmaps

Peruvian ceviche, on the other hand, is traditionally made with chunks of raw fish (sea bass is the most traditional) marinated in lime juice or naranja agria (bitter orange) juice. The concoction is flavored with salt, ají peppers, garlic, and onions in a sauce called leche de tigre. It is typically served with corn on the cob and sweet potato. Ceviche is a very important dish in Peruvian culture, and it even has its own holiday (June 28—be sure to celebrate!). Peru has experienced a recent gastronomic boom as a result of a mixing of various cultures, resulting in fusion dishes, and ceviche is no exception.

What’s my verdict? Both are delicious! If you love the taste of fresh seafood, especially shrimp or octopus, you’ll love Mexican ceviche. You can try it at Mariscos Playa Hermosa. And if you love a creamy, flavor-packed sauce, then Peruvian ceviche is for you. El Chullo has an excellent version. But you’ll never know until you try them both. Buen provecho!

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