By Danielle de Bruin, Epicure & Culture Contributor
Pretty much everyone who travels to Peru tries Peruvian ceviche. It’s practically the national dish, offered on almost every menu in Lima; from the popular and cheap Menu del Día lunch spots, to the fine dining restaurants with international acclaim.
Ceviche is prepared with small strips of raw fish, ‘cooked’ in lime juice and served with finely sliced red onions, coriander, aji amarillo (a flavorsome local variety of chili, ubiquitous with Peruvian cuisine), sweet potato and corn.
I’ve tasted my way around many of Lima’s cevicherias; seafood restaurants famed for their ceviche. Some of the best cevicherias are located along La Mar Avenue, in the seaside Miraflores district. In fact, I’ve enjoyed many a plate in these popular eateries, but I wanted to go beyond the refined restaurants and get closer to the source. Having a keen interest in where food comes from and how it’s made, I sought a more authentic ceviche experience.
So where can you find the most authentic taste of Peruvian ceviche?
Exploring Lima’s Mercado Central
While in Lima, I sacrificed my Saturday morning sleep-in and got up at the crack of dawn to head into the city center. At a time when I’m normally still fast asleep, Mercado Central, one of Lima’s biggest fish markets, was already a hive of activity, ready for its busiest morning of the week.
Walking into the market I was immediately hit by overwhelming smells and sounds. I started with the fruit section, where it was already clear that I wasn’t far from the ocean’s freshest catch. Lima’s most vociferous fishmongers were enthusiastically advertising their products.
The market place is enormous. Taking up an entire city block and spilling out onto the surrounding streets, Mercado Central is where most Limeños go to do their shopping and strike a bargain.
Once I became adjusted to the chaotic sounds and pungent smells, the aesthetics started to register. Meandering along, I came across rows upon rows of different fruits, followed by potatoes, quinoa, legumes and nuts. Each market stall specializes in just a few products — the vendors clearly stick to what they’re good at.
I took a brief stroll through the household section, where entire sections of the market were devoted to cake decorating accessories and party paraphernalia. From there, I continued to follow my nose to the fish section, where the affront on the senses was suddenly heightened.Want to try #authentic #fish dishes in #Peru? Head to this vibrant #market in #Lima. Click To Tweet
Choosing The Pacific’s Finest & Freshest
The market’s fish section took my breath away. I had never seen so many types of fish and seafood in one place. There were fish of every size and shape imaginable, from the humongous crabs to the tiniest shrimp and everything in between. Important-looking chefs pointed out their selections, while a small entourage of assistants finalized their purchases. Humble housewives searched for good bargains to keep their families fed for the week.
In my limited Spanish, I chatted with the vendors about the different varieties of fish and seafood on offer. Every time I asked about ceviche, I was pointed in the direction of two varieties — corvina (sea bass) and lenguado (flounder), although I’m told that any meaty white fish would work if you want to make ceviche at home.
The key to preparing good ceviche is using fresh fish. One of the vendors I spoke to was horrified at my suggestion of freezing some fish and trying to make ceviche the following weekend.
I was told by my Peruvian friend Edgardo that despite its appearance on almost every dinner menu, Limeños never order ceviche after lunchtime. That’s just too much of a time lapse between the fisherman’s early morning haul and the dinner plate. Instead, ceviche is enjoyed as a late morning brunch, especially at Sunday family occasions, where locals normally eat fish from a shared platter.
By the time I finished touring the fish section, it was already coming up to noon. The trade was slowing down, and I was getting hungry.Love eating fresh #fish? Here's why you should take a #trip to #Peru. Click To Tweet
Hunting Out The Best Peruvian Ceviche In Lima
Right among the fishmongers’ stalls I found a small pop-up cevicheria. I perched myself on a stool at the counter, and within seconds I had a steamy fish broth and huge bowl of ceviche placed in front of me. The ceviche was delicious; delicately balanced, yet packing a punch from aji amarillo.
Quick tip: Don’t order ceviche a la limeño (Lima-style) unless you have a high tolerance for spicy food!
Sampling ceviche in Lima’s fish market is a great sensory experience, offering a truly authentic taste of Peru. Perhaps not everyone wants to dine with the smell of fresh fish wafting over them, while watching fishmongers chop up fish guts a few feet away. But if you can stomach it, the experience is perhaps as close to the source as you can get without boarding a boat at 4am for the actual catch!
Where have you found authentic Peruvian ceviche in Lima? We’d love to hear in the comments below!