If there is one food contribution given to the world by Latin America that may go down as the best one of all time, it would have to be ceviche. It is as sacred to us as sushi always hits the spot, and is the epitome of everything that Latino cuisines stand for in terms of flavor: sour, savory, spicy, and freshness.
Almost every country in South America along the coast has a version of the dish and they all share the common thread of being cured or “cooked” in lime juice. In the US, Mexican and Peruvian ceviches have dominated the playing field, though if you look hard enough, you can also find Ecuadorian and Chilean versions as well. Here is how to tell each style apart.
The main difference with Ecuador-style ceviches to the other ones on this list is the use of sweet peppers instead of spicy ones. That, and a small squeeze of mustard into the mixture that adds a little bit of extra sharpness. In addition to a little swig of vinegar to amp up the lemon or lime juice. Ecuadorians also like their ceviches on the sweeter side, so there may also be a little bit of sugar, ketchup, orange juice, or even tomato sauce added. Lastly, fried green plantain chips called chifles are the crunchy texture of choice for scooping up the fresh fish.
Ceviche is much more than a dish in Mexico. It is a pastime, a lifestyle, and a status food. The core ingredients for Mexican-style ceviche varies by state. When in Sinaloa or Tijuana, you can expect a base of chopped tomatoes, limes, cilantro, and maybe some cucumber mixed in with some finely chopped fish or shrimp. If in Jalisco, you will get thinly shredded carrots, cilantro, onions, and cucumber with ground fish. Both are equally delicious, especially with a few shakes of Huichol hot sauce, a frosty beer, and an afternoon on the beach. Extra crunchy, flaky, freshly fried tortillas are the best accompaniment for this style.
Peruvians, with their big Japanese Nikkei influences, pride themselves in larger cuts of fish in their ceviche. The chiles that are used in their preparation are the powerfully spicy, bright, and fruity aji peppers and it makes for an addictive forkful. The milky liquid that is used for Peruvian ceviche is called leche de tigre and it is Peru’s secret weapon in any of their raw seafood preparations. Their ceviche also benefits from the very nice contrasting elements of cooked, cubed sweet potatoes, crunchy, salty toasted corn, and huge kernels of chewy high-altitude choclo.
Perhaps the most underrated on this list, Chilean is the most minimalist of all, yet one of the most complex. Due to a mix of both lime and grapefruit juices, fresh garlic, and the use of mint, and sometimes spices like toasted cumin. It is usually eaten with a spoon, with crackers, or with freshly baked bread.
They all win! It just depends on what country or restaurant you are visiting. ¡Provecho!