The Royal Spanish Academy admits to writing ceviche, ceviche, seviche or sebiche, and defines it as a dish made with raw fish or seafood in marinade typical of several American countries. It is one of the emblematic dishes of Peruvian gastronomy, and UNESCO has recognized it at the 18th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Cultural Heritage, held in Botswana (Africa) as Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It is more than a recipe, it is an example of the importance of Peruvian cuisine as a factor of social cohesion, and is closely related to the Peruvian coast and the highlands and jungle regions.
Ceviche is closely related to the Peruvian coast; However, in the highlands and jungle regions it is also prepared with local inputs. On the north coast, the characteristic ceviche of black shells stands out, which is consumed especially in Tumbes and Piura. In its preparation, local products such as Chulucanas lemon and shells extracted from mangroves are used. These mollusks are collected by shell extractors in the area, who teach their artisanal harvesting techniques to visitors. On the contrary, in the mountains, the most popular ceviche is the one made with trout and accompanied by mote (dried corn cooked in water) instead of the traditional corn. Also, in some villages they replace lemon juice with sanky, an Andean fruit that grows at an altitude of 3000 meters above sea level.
In the jungle, the fish most used for this dish is paiche, whose meat is considered a gourmet product. For the marinade, camu camu juice is used, a fruit considered a superfood due to its high vitamin C content. Local products such as charapita pepper, sachatomate and sachaculantro are also incorporated, which highlight the flavor of the Peruvian Amazon, according to a statement from the Peruvian Commission for the Promotion of Exports and Tourism (PromPerú).
Mexican chef Roberto Ruiz has just returned from Lima (Peru) on a revealing trip in which he has shed some light on the provenance, but above all on the differences and nuances between ceviche, which is prepared in his country and the Peruvian one. In conversation with EL PAÍS, he clarifies that the recipe that is made in Lima is full of nuances, "of backgrounds, of aji no moto [a flavor enhancer that enhances the flavors of food], of clear Asian influence and that makes you not stop eating it because it is delicious." In Mexico, on the other hand, fresh fish is cut instantly and seasoned with citrus fruits. "It's more basic, we put a citrus-based acid to tan it, with some spice, it is seasoned and served," explains the owner, among others, of the restaurant Can Chan Chan, in Madrid, where he prepares a red ceviche of prawns with a crispy potato taco, or green scallops with jalapeño pepper emulsion. In his country, he explains, "it is typical to go fishing and bring lemons, tomatoes, cilantro and onion and prepare it filleted on the spot, once the fish has been caught," he adds. And he clarifies that "depending on whether we are in the north or the south, we use one fish or another." For example, in the north they usually make it with prawns or shrimp, "which we call aguachile, it's very simple"; Or we also use dorado or mahi mahi, an open-sea fish with meat similar to that of Peruvian sole." In Spain, it is usually prepared with sea bass, sea bass or monkfish, "fish with firm flesh and few bones".
Market stall or restaurant?
Another distinctive feature, which speaks of the relevance of a dish in one country or another, Ruiz adds, is the space reserved for its tasting. "In Mexico you eat in carretas, rustic wooden carts, where fresh fish seasoned with lemon is shipped, and in Peru you eat it in cevicherias and you can eat it from breakfast to dinner."
It is something that Peruvian chef Luis Arévalo, owner of two restaurants in Madrid, Gaman Restaurante Nikkei by Luis Arévalo and Akiro, also extols as a cultural element: "Ceviche has gone from being a recipe to a preparation technique that goes from Mexico to Patagonia." Around ceviche there is a lot of mysticism and something divine. Its origin is attributed to several countries, including Chile and Ecuador. Arévalo talks about the trail left by a pre-Columbian governor, who already ate fish con tumbo [a fruit rich in vitamin C from the Peruvian highlands, whose essence is used in sauces to accompany ceviches, tiraditos or causas].
He also refers to the fact that the Spaniards, when they first arrived in Peru with "Moorish slaves, left pickles, salted fish and dressings with citrus juice in the recipe book," says the chef. The chef, who was born in Iquitos, in the Peruvian jungle, remembers how ceviche has been incorporated into his diet since he was a child, especially on Sundays. They used, he recalls on the other end of the phone, river fish, such as the paiche, one of the largest freshwater fish in the world, as it can measure up to four meters, "similar to cod", or the maiden. "My mother used to prepare it in the mornings to eat it at noon, so the fish was quite cooked, something that doesn't happen now because we prioritize the taste of the fish above all. The marinating times now are not so important."
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In Spain, there is a boom in ceviches. Arévalo agrees with Ruiz that sea bass is good for this type of preparation, as it withstands acid very well, "as well as being well priced". The Peruvian prepares it with this type of fish in Gaman, where he also serves it as tuna. On the other hand, at Akiro, a restaurant with a more Asian philosophy, he does it with hamachi. He also warns about the difference between ceviche, whose fish meat is cut into squares, and tiradito, cut into thin slices. The first, "with lemon juice, onion, chili, coriander and salt", is the simplest to make, although each cook has his own secret. "Some people add garlic, ginger or celery." On the other hand, tiradito can be made in other ways. "They are thin slices thrown on a plate that are seasoned with milder sauces, such as tiger's milk."
The ceviche fever arrived in Spain in 2007, with the arrival of the Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio, who raised the concept of Peruvian cuisine to a level of luxury with the Astrid y Gastón restaurant, in the heart of Paseo de la Castellana, and which was taken care of by the chef Virgilio Martínez —today at the helm of Central, The World's 50 Best Restaurants list — and that one of the crises, that of 2011, swept away. "It helped a lot with the opening and opened the door for others," Arevalo said.
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