The Tomb Raider games may not be known for their culinary references but the 2018 game Shadow of the Tomb Raider managed to showcase several popular Latin American foodstuffs and dishes: ch’arki, chuños, and the Mexican pork dish Poc Chuc.
Now it’s time to tuck into yet another mouth-watering edition of Taste Raider and learn more about the origins and preparation of ceviche, a delectable South American seafood dish commonly made with raw white fish, red onions, chili peppers, and lime juice!
The Origins of Ceviche
People tend to associate ceviche with Peru, where the dish is considered part of the country’s national heritage and even has its own designated national day (June 28). But the exact origins of the dish are a little murky. Even the etymology of the name “ceviche” is a topic of debate. Some claim that the name derives from the Spanish escabeche, a type of tangy, vinegary marinade with Andalusian Arabic origins. However, Peruvian nationalists, particularly those from indigenous backgrounds, argue that the word is derived from the Quechua word for fresh or raw fish, siwichi.
Since historical records are far from complete and there is no one way to prepare ceviche, it’s near impossible to pinpoint the dish’s origins. What we do know is that it likely originated in Peru and that the use of limes and red onions in South American cuisine only dates back to the Spanish colonisation of the continent; neither of these ingredients are native to the Americas.
Ceviche as we know it today may be a product of the Spanish colonisation of the Americas and later influenced by the arrival of Japanese immigrants to Peru, but archaeological records suggest that the practice of using fruit juices and alcohol to marinate fish could date back as far as the early first millennium CE. The Moche of northern coastal Peru (100-700 CE) used banana passionfruit juice to “cook” and preserve their fish, while the Inca used ají peppers and a type of corn beer called chicha de jora to marinate theirs. If you’d like to learn more, you can find a detailed history of Peruvian ceviche over on SUMAQ.
Regardless of where the dish originated from, ceviche dishes are now served in restaurants and homes across the coastal regions of the Americas and beyond. And just like the Mexican pork dish Poc Chuc, ceviche is a fusion of the so-called Old World and New World culinary traditions and ingredients. There’s just so much history in this flavoursome seafood dish.
Just an aside: Another popular ceviche-based appetiser is leche de tigre (“tiger’s milk”), which was made from the leftover marinade. A small glass of this citrusy nutrient-rich juice is often served as an appetiser alongside your plate of ceviche but an increasing number of Peruvian cevicherías sell leche de tigre as a standalone drink. Some chefs add evaporated milk or coconut milk, effectively turning it into a ceviche smoothie, while others may add a shot of Pisco brandy and turn it into a ceviche cocktail. The drink is believed to boost energy levels, have aphrodisiac qualities, and be the perfect cure for a hangover. So if you’re ever in Peru and need a quick pick-me-up, treat yourself to a glass of tiger’s milk!
So, About Those Famous “Fish Trees”…
When Kuwaq Yaku resident and de factor mayor Abby Ortiz learns that Jonah is a cook, she asks him if he’s tried any of the town’s local ceviche. Jonah isn’t that easily fooled and replies with a knowing chuckle, “Not unless it grows in the jungle.” Abby deflects his witty reply with a cheeky “Don’t tell me you missed our famous Fish Trees.”
Spoiler alert: Those famous fish trees don’t actually exist. This whole conversation was clearly a joke or flirtatious banter. Perhaps Abby was testing Jonah’s foodie knowledge. In any case, there’s certainly some truth to it. If you want to sample a dish made from raw fish and seafood, you’d have more luck finding a delicious plate of ceviche at a home or restaurant near the coast and not in some remote town in the middle of a hot, humid rainforest.
Unless you’d prefer some piranha ceviche drizzled with oil from the nearby Porvenir oil fields.
Make Your Own Ceviche at Home
These days, ceviche can be found in restaurants around the world. But if you’d like to try your hand at making your own ceviche at home, you’re in luck. You can find a plethora of recipes for this beloved fishy dish on sites such as Allrecipes, Laylita’s Recipes, and the Spanish-language site PequeRecetas.
The core ingredients of ceviche are usually the same wherever you go: white fish such as sea bass, halibut, or mahi-mahi, red onions, chili peppers, and lime juice. But you’ll soon find that the exact ingredients and garnishes vary from region to region. For instance, Peruvian recipes often make use of ají chili peppers and serve it with choclo (Peruvian corn) and sweet potato. Mexican ceviche recipes may call for tomatoes, avocados, and refried beans and can be served in cocktail glasses or on corn tostadas. And in Ecuador, they regularly swap out the fish for prawns and shellfish and serve it with plantain.
If you prefer your recipes in video form, check out La Cocina de Victoriano’s recipe for Peruvian ceviche. The video is in Spanish but there are English subtitles available for those who need them.
You can also find a recipe for ceviche in Tomb Raider: The Official Cookbook and Travel Guide but as the book notes, there are certain risks involved when serving raw fish. Make sure that you use fresh fish in your recipe and purchase it from a trusted source to minimise the risk of food poisoning or ingesting parasites. Lime juice will denature the fish flesh and make it look cooked but it will not kill any of the harmful bacteria or parasites that may be present.
Alternatively, forgo the home-made variety and treat yourself to some professionally-prepared ceviche at your local Peruvian or Mexican restaurant!
Sources & Further Reading:
- Ceviche (Wikipedia)
- Ceviche: The Surprising History Behind Peru’s Raw Fish Dish by Rebecca Seal
- History of Ceviche, Seviche, Cebiche (What’s Cooking America?)
- Peruvian Ceviche (Wikipedia)
- The History of Peruvian Ceviche: The Evolution of Ceviche (SUMAQ)
- The Science of Ceviche (Institute of Culinary Education)
- What is Ceviche? Everything You Need to Know (EatPeru.com)
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