What can be simpler than fresh fish, or other sea food, in lime juice. Yet, when well done, it is so much more than the sum of the ingredients. It becomes an experience in texture and a synergy of taste that is so much greater than the sum of the dish’s parts. This is ceviche, or cebiche, the classic dish of coastal Perú, which is celebrated today.
Classic ceviche developed on the Peruvian coast–although variants are found throughout coastal Spanish America. Since then it has become one of the most preferred foods in all of Peru. Even in Cuzco, chefs await the daily shipments of fresh caught seafood that arrive by air, to rush it to their kitchens and make the ceviche that is so loved in the city.
With the spread of fish farms, Cuzco’s highland population now has a regular source of fresh fish, trout, even if not the ocean caught fish of classic ceviche. Nevertheless, fresh trout has supplied the raw material for much ceviche consumed in Cuzco.
To make good ceviche requires good raw material, the freshest and firmest of fish or very fresh shell fish, and then good limes. Not only does Peru with its long coast–and now fish farms–have the ability to provide very good sea food, it also has unique limes.
Anglo Americans do not pay much attention to limes, since we grant priority to the yellow lemons typical of much Spanish cooking, but the lime is a revelation with its intense acidity and rich flavor.
The green limes of the US are almost nothing like the small, yellowish limes of Peru. These seem somehow more acidic and sweeter than the US limes, they lack the bitterness common to North-American limes, and as a result make a very tasty ceviche.
Today Perú honors this simplest and most basic of dishes, as an homage to its self. It is worth taking time to try a good ceviche from one of Cuzco’s fine restaurants where the dish is tackled whether with ocean fish shipped in fresh, or from local trout. Ceviche is indeed a revelation and always a treat.