If you were to ask someone from Peru to name their favorite dish, odds are that they’ll emphatically answer “Ceviche!” — so it’s no surprise that this popular dish that has been around for over 500 years has a National Day of Ceviche in its honor. That day happens to be June 28th and by a delightful coincidence I was meeting a friend for lunch at La Mar.
But all week, perhaps due to some subconscious inspiration, I have been on a ceviche kick — studying recipes, reading about the history, and cooking ceviche every day at home. Though relatively simple, it’s a very different approach than cooking with fire, and perhaps that’s what makes ceviche a perfect complement to other Peruvian dishes.
The first ceviches were made by the Incas using fermented corn and fruit juice. Even in Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire, they prepared ceviche using fish from the coast that was carried by Chasquis that ran a distance of 200 miles in 2 days. The arrival of the Spaniards in the 15th century introduced limes and onions to the ceviche, and the dish was changed forever.
But the ceviche we have today is largely due to the influence of the Japanese that first arrived in Peru only 100 years ago. With them, they brought a profound understanding and appreciation of fish. Like many immigrants, they opened restaurants in Lima and when they started cooking ceviches, it became more popular than ever. That was the beginning of Nikkei cuisine in Peru.
In many ways similar to sushi, the principles of Nikkei cuisine are simplicity, freshness, and purity. In fact, many chefs only use fish, limes, salt, hot peppers, and onions when preparing ceviche. Something else that makes a ceviche Nikkei is the fusion of Peruvian and Japanese ingredients, for example ginger from Japan and hot peppers from Peru.
Many people will swear that the juice from the ceviche — lime infused with the spices and fish — is the perfect cure for a hangover, say from having too many Pisco Sours. Others won’t wait until after drinking to enjoy the “leche de tigre” juice but will mix it with Pisco shots, perhaps in an attempt to prevent that hangover in the first place.
I know that after this week, I will have a deeper understanding and appreciation for ceviche. And whenever I prepare it I’ll celebrate its journey and all the cultures that have contributed to it’s perfectly refreshing and spicy simplicity. Stay tuned for upcoming posts with more ceviche recipes — until then, happy National Day of Ceviche, or in my case, Ceviche Week!