If you followed my Peruvian adventures on my social media accounts (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook), then you know that I just returned from two wonderful weeks in glorious Perú. It was a trip I had been planning for about a year and it did not disappoint. I spent the first week travelling through the countryside and the second week eating my way through Lima.
From this side of the world, Perú has a mystical aura surrounding it. The Inca Trail, the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and the mysterious Temple of the Sun, the 6000m high mountains, the 2kms deep canyons, the Amazon and its chocolate plantations all contribute in making Perú one of the most desirable travel destinations. To us food lovers, there is one additional wonder to all those I cited and that is Lima’s culinary scene which, in the last few years, has become a food mecca and carved a spot for itself on some of the most prestigious international lists.
I will be writing a few articles about my Peruvian travels but I wanted to start with one on ceviche because I already miss having this dish on a daily basis. I left Montreal with a slew of restaurant reservations and a list of places so long I could not possibly fit them all in while in Lima. I was most looking forward to eating ceviche, since it’s one of my most favourite dishes.
Ceviche (or cebiche) is Perú’s most ubiquitous national dish and one of the only Peruvian dishes to have gained international popularity in the past few decades (which is a shame because Peruvian cuisine is delicious!). Some food historians believe that ceviche was created in some form by the Inca who used to marinate fresh fish in the local banana passion fruit, later replaced by the citrus brought over by the Spaniards. A classic ceviche is comprised of only a handful of ingredients so freshness is key. Just-caught fish is mixed with lime juice, slivers of onions, aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow pepper) and salt and served with a side of camote (sweet potato) or roasted corn. The fish is mixed in at the very last minute so that it doesn’t “cook” too long in the lime juice. The ceviche “juice” is called leche de tigre and no one will scowl at you if you drink it after you’re done eating your ceviche. It’s the best part!
Hundreds of Limeña cevicherias serve ceviche daily for lunch, since fish is at its freshest early in the day. Ceviche is also served in almost every other restaurant in the city (for lunch and dinner) and I was eager to try as many of them as possible. Every chef has his own take on ceviche. Some might change the acid the fish marinades in, others the fish or seafood. I’ve had vegetarian ceviche, nikkei ceviche (with a Japanese influence), ceviche with leche de tigre in powder form and a high end ceviche that was almost too beautiful to eat. Almost.
Below are some photos of all the ceviche I ate with a brief description since I will be talking about all these restaurants again in future articles.
If you’d like to try ceviche in Montreal, head to Callao Restaurant on Laurier Street. Chef Mario Navarrete Jr’s ceviche is one of the best I’ve ever tasted, including those I tried in Lima.