Ceviche has many forms in the present day, but its source is not debatable. Let’s get this out of the way for any alternate theorists or excessively proud nationalists: ceviche was invented in Peru.
The History of Ceviche in Peru
Ceviche in its most rudimentary form was first made hundreds of years ago by the Moche people of Northern Peru. Chunks of fish were marinated in the acidic juice of passion fruit, along with local chiles (such as aji limo and rocoto), and salt. As the dish spread to other parts of Peru and the Incan empire, chicha de jora (a slightly tangy, fermented corn beer) was used as a marinade as well.
With the arrival of those brutal, colonizing Spaniards came citrus fruits from other parts of the world. Soon lime juice was substituted into ceviche as an acidic stringent. Ceviche as it was known then was traditionally marinated for hours on end, resulting in a less desirable end product. This changed in the 1970s when Japanese Peruvians introduced fast-curing techniques to make what is now modern Peruvian ceviche.
The Classic Peruvian Ceviche Recipe
The standard recipe for classic Peruvian ceviche de pescado uses the following: chunks of raw fish, thinly sliced purple onion, chopped ají pepper (usually ají limo, but others can be used as well), lime juice, salt, and pepper. Cilantro was not part of the original Peruvian ceviche recipe, however, its present day use in Peru varies from place to place. That’s it. Nothing further is added to a true Peruvian ceviche, especially not that most vile of condiments: ketchup.
After lightly mixing, ceviche is then left to marinate for 5 to 10 minutes. It’s then plated on a few leaves of bib lettuce with the following accompanying items on the same plate: a partial cob of boiled choclo (giant Andean corn with amusingly large kernels), boiled camote (sweet potato), and cancha (fried Andean corn: the original Corn Nuts). Lastly, yuyo de mar, a seaweed similar to the kind used in Japanese seaweed salads, is placed on top as a tasty, edible garnish.
Regional Variations Within Peru
Now, of course there are countless variations of classic Peruvian ceviche just within Peru, but they generally follow the general formula laid out above. The three most striking variations regarding Peruvian ceviche are regional. The most common ceviche, such as the recipe above, is the central Peruvian style found in Lima and the surrounding areas.
In Lima, the preferred fish is lenguado (sole). These are large, halibut-sized sole, and they’re extremely tasty. Contrary to popular American myth, ceviche doesn’t have to be made exclusively with white fish. In fact, lenguado is often pink white or brown white in color, and far more flavorful than many white fish commonly used in ceviche in the United States (particularly cod and tilapia).
In Southern Peru, corvina is the fish of choice for ceviche. In the warmer waters of Northern Peru, mero (grouper) is a common ceviche ingredient, particularly in Piura. In other parts of Peru, a small amount of chopped celery is sometimes added. Accompaniments vary from region to region as well. For example, in Northern Peru you’ll find chifles (fried plantain chips) and occasionally boiled yuca, or even crackers. In the Amazon regions, ceviche will almost always arrive with yuca.
Ceviche Outside of Peru
From the multitude of Peruvian ceviches, ceviche has spread South to Chile and North through all of Latin America, all the way to Alaska. Some nations, such as Mexico, have made very tasty versions of ceviche that stand alone in their own way. Others, that I won’t mention, have made variations that are nothing more than a soup bath of cured fish in ketchup, mayonnaise, and various other things (but to each his or her own I suppose).
Being that non-Peruvian ceviche encompasses a myriad of recipes and cultures that I’d like to give full respect and time to, we’ll go into further detail regarding all of those variations of non-Peruvian ceviche in another article. This article told you what Peruvian ceviche consists of. Now we’re going to discuss where to find the best options while visiting the Peruvian capital city of Lima.
Where to Eat Ceviche in Lima
There are countless cevicherías (or sometimes spelled cebicherías) in Peru. What once started out humbly, has now turned into a gigantic spectrum of ceviche, ranging from super high end cevicherías and restaurants such as La Mar and Chez Wong, to classic home style places like Restaurant Sonia and Cevichería Puro Tumbes, to hole in the wall places likes the ceviche stands you’ll find at the seafood market. The amazing thing is that at virtually every level, the ceviche in Lima is outstanding.
One of the most popular places to eat not just ceviche, but all sorts of mariscos, is Restaurant Sonia in the Chorrillos district of Lima. Though it’s always been popular with Limeños, it became very popular with food tourists after being shown on television food shows by Anthony Bourdain and Gastón Acurio. Despite the popularity, it hasn’t changed a bit, which is a good thing.
I remember getting out of the taxi I took from Miraflores to Chorrillos back in 2009, and having the taxistas tell me to be careful of pickpockets. I then walked two blocks from the Malecón (which has a splendid view of the the Lima skyline and the Costa Verde) to Restaurant Sonia. Before I even got there, the security guard outside also told me to be careful of pickpockets, so needless to say, it had quite the reputation, deserved or not.
If you’re familiar with Lima, Miraflores is somewhat like the Santa Monica of Lima. To the immediate south of that is the bohemian/artsy district of Barranco (yes, there are hipsters there, but you’ll live). To the south of that is Chorrillos, which has somewhat of a worse reputation than it deserves, especially in light of the infamous shootout at a chicken restaurant involving UFC fighter Valentina Schevchenko, her trainer, and some armed robbers.
Though it’s not a well off neighborhood, it has its nice spots and I’ve been in far worse neighborhoods in Mexico and in and around Lima itself (Callao, for starters). I do believe that it’s worth the effort to head out to Chorrillos to get some fresh seafood. Furthermore, the taxi rides from Miraflores are pretty safe and secure, especially when traveling by day, and you can have the restaurant call a return taxi for you. If you speak Spanish or travel with a Spanish speaker and travel by day via taxi cab you should be fine, but always keep your wits about you.
Sonia offers so many great seafood plates, but I had to order a ceviche mixto, which contains everything I mentioned above in a classic Lima style ceviche de pescado, plus shrimp, squid, octopus, clams, mussels, and a scallop. It sounds so simple, but the freshness of the seafood (owner Sonia Bahamonde’s husband Freddy pulls it all onto his boat daily), and the spicy, sour, and salty taste of the ceviche, along with its sweet, starchy and crunchy accompaniments is an another level. It’s really indescribable.
Sonia also makes tiradito, which is more like a thinly sliced sashimi, with its own sauce on top. In addition to cured seafood, Restaurant Sonia makes a wide array of hot dishes such as parihuela, chita al ajo and a lo macho, chicharron de calamar, huevera frita, tacu tacu con salsa a lo macho, pulpo al olivo, pescado a la chorillana, arroz chaufa de mariscos, and many others. In fact of few national dishes were invented in this very restaurant.
Sonia is a little bit pricier than the average cevichería in Lima, but it is still really cheap compared to U.S. prices. The quality of the seafood, the ambiance of the location, and the service, are all top notch and well worth the visit. To get there, just take a taxi to the address listed at the bottom of this post and look for the fishing boat parked outside. Don’t be discouraged if you see the large doors closed, as they often are. The restaurant is open and ready to serve you. When you enter, it will feel a world apart from the outside streets of Chorrillos.
Cevichería Puro Tumbes
Cevichería Puro Tumbes is a cult favorite in Lima. While upscale restaurants like La Mar (which is excellent in its own right) are touted in the international media, Limeños flock to Cevichería Puro Tumbes, which is a neighborhood cevichería in a mechanic district. Tumbes is a city in Northern Peru (in fact, it’s pretty much the last major city before Ecuador) that is well known for the quality of its ceviche, and this restaurant specializes in the Northern Peruvian style.
We found out about this restaurant from a Limeño that shared a cab with us from the airport. He recommended the Ceviche a lo Nando plate and for that I’m forever thankful to that guy, where ever he may be now. Supposedly, it’s not in the best neighborhood, but my wife and I walked around during day time and found it to be safe a walk from the TEPSA bus station on Javier Prado.
Cevichería Puro Tumbes is located in a somewhat unattractive mechanic district. Though it seemed safe and sound to us, from what the locals all told us, it probably isn’t the best place to be walking around at night.After walking past the inconspicuous little cevichería 2 times, we finally found it. We of course ordered the famous Ceviche a lo Nando plate. It’s enough to feed 4 people for about 8 bucks (2009 prices).
The Ceviche a lo Nando plate is enormous, and offers the largest variety of seafood that I’ve ever found in an authentic Peruvian Ceviche. It contains: lenguado (sole), squid, octopus, shrimp, mussels, scallops, oysters, clams, crab, crayfish, and shrimp on an enormous multi-compartment plate. The plate comes with the obligatory sides of Peruvian beans, chifles, sweet potato, choclo, cancha, and an extra side of fiery red salsa de rocoto.
We also ordered the arroz chaufa de camarones plate. Arroz chaufa is the Chinese-Peruvian version of fried rice. This plate is special, in that it comes with crayfish, which may have you confused, judging by its title.The reason for this is that although in most of Latin America, shrimp are called camarones, and crayfish are called langostinos (or acociles in Mexico), in Perú, the opposite is true, with camarones being crayfish, and langostinos being shrimp. Be careful to make note of this, especially if you have a specific shellfish allergy of any kind.
Of course no meal would be complete without the large bottles of Cusqueña Negra we had to wash everything down. We devoured everything. The seasoning for the ceviche is exquisite and quite frankly this is one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life as far as seafood goes. I highly recommend eating here.
A Ceviche Lover’s Paradise
These are just two of many great cevicherías in Lima. Whether you’re looking for high end, hole in the wall, or home style cuisine, you’ll be satisfied beyond your wildest expectations. If you’re a ceviche lover, you must come to Lima, the cradle of ceviche.
This article is dedicated to Restaurant Sonia Co-Owner Sonia Bahamonde, who unfortunately passed away in 2018. It was an honor and privilege to be graced by her presence and to eat in her restaurant, which lives on through her family.
Restaurant Sonia is open from 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM, 7 days a week.
La Rosa Lozano Y Tirado 173
Perú +51 2516693
Cevichería Puro Tumbes has two locations. This location is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, 7 days a week.
Directions Cevichería Puro Tumbes
Avenida Canadá 690