Ceviche: The National Dish of Peru

Learn all about ceviche, a classic Peruvian dish featuring fish marinated in lime juice which has been adopted by countries around the world.
A fresh plate of ceviche, a dish consisting of raw fish marinated in lime juice

A visit to Peru is not complete without trying the traditional seafood dish called ceviche. On this page, you will learn about everything ceviche, including what it is, its history, recipes and variations from around the world. You’ll also find the top ceviche restaurants in Peru, so you can enjoy a plateful from the master chefs themselves.

What is ceviche?

Ceviche, also known as cebiche, sebiche or seviche, is a citrusy seafood dish popular throughout Latin America. It is traditionally made from raw fish and cured with lime. Though its origin is largely debated, it is broadly agreed that this meal can find its roots in Peru.

A delicious plate of ceviche, Peru's national dish

The traditional Peruvian preparation is made with a white seawater fish, like sea bass, which is then cured in freshly squeezed lime or bitter orange, and mixed with sliced onions, chili peppers and salt. Accompaniments are typically a medley of giant Peruvian corn, slices of cooked sweet potato, and some crunchy chifles (plantain chips) and cancha (corn nuts).

What does ceviche taste like?

Common descriptors of traditional Peruvian ceviche are refreshing, light, clean, bright, spicy and delightfully acidic. While the portions can be relatively small, the richness and nutritional content make for a super satisfying dish.

“A great ceviche is a perfectly composed mix of flavors, ranging from spicy to sour, and textures from soft to tender to crisp. It is a great representation of what Peruvian cuisine gets right — using native ingredients (the fish, the chilies, the sweet potatoes) that don’t seem to go together to create a dish that totally works and is completely original,” says Lima resident and Peru for Less General Manager Monique Loayza. “It’s one of my favorite summertime dishes.”

To sum it up, Peru born-and-raised Selene Montemayor describes it as “heaven on a plate.”

A brief history of ceviche

As mentioned, the origin of ceviche is debated throughout South and Central America all the way to the Polynesian Islands. However, it is widely accepted that ceviche originated on the Pacific coasts of Peru nearly 2000 years ago. The Moche civilization, who inhabited the area, prepared fish with the juice of a local passionfruit known as tumbo. There is also evidence of coastal civilizations of Peru preparing fish with aji (pepper) and salt.

More recent studies find that ceviche was later enjoyed by the Incas throughout the Andes mountains of Peru. However, it was instead marinated with chicha — an Andean beverage made from fermented corn.

The history of ceviche and its influences

The preparation of ceviche as it’s known today came to fruition when the Spanish arrived. They began importing mediterranean ingredients like lime and cilantro some 400 years ago. Thereafter, the popular and widely-consumed dish was modified; and lime or orange replaced the tumbo or chicha and it was topped off with fresh cilantro.

It then went through yet another phase of modifications with the influence of the Japanese. The ingredients remained the same, but the method was altered. Before, the fish was “cooked” (without heat) in the juices for hours. The Japanese, being so well-versed in raw fish by way of national dishes like sashimi and sushi, switched to plating immediately after cutting and smothering in the juices. As a result, it is now commonplace in Peru to serve immediately, and skip the cooking phase.

Traditional Ceviche Recipe

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Category: fish, appetizer, main
  • Method: marinated
  • Cuisine: Peruvian

Ingredients

Ceviche

  • 2 medium red onions, julienned (sliced thin)
  • 1 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice (approximately 10-15 limes)
  • 1-2 aji amarillo or habanero peppers, seeded and sliced
  • 2 pounds white, raw, saltwater fish cut into cubes (corvina, sea bass, mahi mahi, halibut)
  • A sprig of cilantro
  • Salt, to taste

Accompaniments

  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled, boiled, and sliced
  • 1 cup of Peruvian corn, boiled
  • Lettuce leaves
  • 1 cup cancha (corn nuts)
  • 1 cup chifles (plantain chips)
  • Chopped cilantro, as garnish
  • Chopped aji, to taste

Preparation

  1. Soak the red onions and 1 tablespoon of salt in cold water for at least 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. This helps cut the harsh flavor.
  2. Drain the onion and add to a glass bowl with the cubed fish, lime juice, cilantro sprig, sliced aji, and salt. Add ice cubes to help neutralize the acidity of the lime.
  3. Cover and refrigerate for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Once the fish is ready, remove the cilantro and chili.
  5. Add salt to taste and mix.
  6. To plate, evenly distribute the fish, onion, and juice onto 4 plates.
  7. On the side, place 2 slices of the sweet potato, ¼ cup of corn, ¼ cup of cancha, and ¼ cup of chifles.
  8. Sprinkle the ceviche with cilantro and aji, to taste. Enjoy!

Additional tip:
You can soak the fish in cold salt water while preparing the onion and lime juice to keep it firm. Make sure to drain and rinse the fish before continuing according to regular recipe.

Leche de Tigre

Let’s take a walk down leche de tigre lane. To put it simply, leche de tigre (tiger’s milk) is the juice of ceviche. It is a zesty mixture of the fish, the lime, the onion and the aji combining to create a unique and flavorful liquid.

a bowl of leche de tigre, a Peruvian culinary specialty

For some, the story of leche de tigre ends there. Others make it a bit creamier by actually blending fish into it. Some also may add actual milk or coconut milk to accentuate the milky consistency.

Leche de tigre is usually served over ceviche, as it is, after all, the juice of ceviche. You also may find it as a stand-alone appetizer, in which case it is typically served in a cocktail glass with some cubes of fish swimming in it. Some love it so much that they throw a bit of vodka and white wine in it and call it a night (check the drink menu for this one).

However it’s enjoyed, it has a special place in Peru. Some even tout it for its aphrodisiac effects and ability to cure hangovers.

Ceviche around the world

Ceviche has made a cultural impact in other countries as well. Ceviche is an integral part of the national heritage in Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Panama and Nicaragua. Variations can also be found in Tahiti, Cooks Islands, Thailand, Philippines, the Mediterranean and even Alaska! The common thread? Raw fish marinated in lime.

A map of the world

Here is a look into the preparations of ceviche around the world:

Peru

Pop quiz! To review, what are the primary ingredients in Peruvian ceviche? Yes, you got it: cubes of raw white fish, lime, red onion, aji, cilantro and salt.

Mexico

Mexico switches it up by swapping fish for small pieces of shrimp, and dicing in avocado, tomato and olives. Similarly to Peru, it is marinated with salt, lime, onion, chili peppers and cilantro. Octopus and tuna are sometimes substituted for the base. The mix is served with homemade nachos for a crunchy treat.

Ecuador

In Ecuador, ceviche is often made with shrimp, or some kind of local shellfish, with lime, salt and tomato sauce. Like in Peru, chifles and cancha are usual accompaniments.

Chile

Peru’s neighbors to the south prepare their ceviche with halibut or Patagonian toothfish. The marinade is a blend of lime, grapefruit, garlic, mint, cilantro and red chilis. Typically served with crackers or homemade bread.

Costa Rica

The ingredients used in Costa Rica are quite similar to Peru. Usually, the base is a tilapia or corvina, with a marinade of lime juice, salt, onion, black pepper, chopped onion and peppers. It is served atop a lettuce leaf with saltines on the side.

El Salvador

A popular preparation of ceviche in El Salvador is ceviche de concha negra, or black conch ceviche. This dish is dark in color due to the black conch, and the burst of flavor includes lime juice, onion, yerba buena, salt, pepper, tomato and hot sauce.

Cuba

The ingredients of Cuban ceviche include lime juice, salt, onion, habanero and green pepper and allspice. The fish used is primarily mahi-mahi.

Caribbean

In the Caribbean ceviche gets a touch of the tropics with a splash of coconut milk in addition to the lime and onions.

Panama

Panama serves a medley of sea bass, octopus, shrimp or squid with lemon or lime, onion, celery, cilantro, peppers and salt.

Tahiti

Tahiti, the largest island in French Polynesia, has a national dish called Poisson Cru. This marinated fish is very similar to ceviche, and includes a mix of raw fish, lime, onion, bell pepper, coconut milk, tomato, cucumber, salt and pepper.

Cook Islands

Heading even further west in the south Pacific, you hit Cooks Islands and find a dish called Ika Mata. This dish is typically prepared with raw tuna, lemon or lime, coconut cream, cucumber, pepper, salt and even a bit of pineapple to take it to that next tier of tropical.

Thailand

In Thailand, they traditionally switch white fish for scallops and add fish sauce, lime leaves and thai chili. A touch of sliced cucumber finishes it off on a fresh note.

Mediterranean

Get some of those Mediterranean flavors in your life with this ceviche concoction featuring cherry tomatoes, orange juice, jalapenos, sumac, lime, fennel and mint all atop sea bass, halibut or snapper.

Alaska

Even in the frigid north Pacific, ceviche has left its mark. Here, it is comprised of Pacific halibut, serrano peppers, lime, cilantro and tomatoes.

National Ceviche Day

Yes, you heard that right. Peru loves their national dish so much that they made a holiday for it. On June 28 every year Peruvians celebrate the one, the only, ceviche. Hotels and restaurants feature special ceviche-inspired menus. There are street fairs and celebrations and competitions where all kinds of ceviche can be found and tasted. Visitors, both Peruvian and foreign, enjoy a range of ceviche from traditional to completely new and inventive on this flavor-fused holiday. It is primarily in Lima, but celebrations can be experienced throughout Peru and even abroad.

Top ceviche restaurants in Lima

You can find ceviche on just about every single menu in Peru. However, here are some spots that stand out from the crowd.

La Mar Cebicheria

If you are in Miraflores and like ceviche, you have to check out this popular restaurant by the internationally-acclaimed chef Gaston Acurio. Beyond its bold concrete exterior, La Mar invites you to delight in a contemporary take on a seafood favorite. The menu features 10 different kinds of ceviche, with the option to try three types on one plate. Acurio is known for having introduced ceviche and other Peruvian classics to the world of fine dining, and you can see why when you try his delectable offerings at this laid-back but undeniably top-notch locale.

Av. Mariscal La Mar 770, Miraflores District, Lima

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Sonia’s

Where does a place like La Mar draw its inspiration? Sonia’s of course. This traditional, husband and wife-owned restaurant has been gracing the coastal Chorrillos district of Lima for nearly 40 years. Ceviche-lovers from far and wide pay it a visit; even the late Anthony Bourdain sat for a meal with chef Sonia and her fisherman husband Freddie. The vibrant, ocean-inspired interior is matched with an incredible seafood menu. There are 10 types of ceviche on offer, including black clam, fish-of-the-day, octopus, squid, shrimp, flounder and more. Don’t forget to also try something from the “Sonia Recommends” page of the menu.

La Rosa Lozano Y Tirado 173, Chorrillos District, Lima

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Chez Wong

Chez Wong is literally considered the “King of Ceviche.” His cult following flock to his nondescript restaurant in the non-touristy La Victoria area of Lima. It is actually located in the living room of his home, with 10 tables and no waitstaff or menu. You will be served whatever it is that he is inspired by at the moment, which of course will include his classic ceviche, consisting of freshly cut sole, lime, aji, onion and black pepper. The only input you will have throughout your experience is sweet or savory, and hot or cold – but you will not be disappointed by this legend of a chef. Advance reservation required.

Enrique León García 114, La Victoria District, Lima

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Pukasoncco

If you are in the resort beach town of Paracas, you will probably be craving some seafood. The artsy Pukasoncco is celebrated for having the best ceviche in the area. The artist/chef owner welcomes his guests with open arms and provides an authentic experience in an inspiring environment. The fish he uses is super fresh and he will even sometimes come out and show diners the fish that he will use to prepare the dish. As a plus, there are many vegan/vegetarian options on the menu, if you have a plant-based travel companion.

H. U. Alan Garcia Perez mza. C lt.8 Paracas, Ica

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Chicha por Gaston Acurio

Another wondrous venture of celebrity chef Gaston Acurio. This elegant and rustic restaurant is a tribute to the Arequipa region’s culinary wisdom and uses local organic produce from nearby valleys. It also happens to serve up delicious shrimp ceviche, featuring the finest river shrimp, rocoto peppers, leche de tigre, onions and corn. End on a sweet note with their queso helado (regional cheese ice cream). While in town, don’t forget to dine at a traditional Arequipena picanteria as well, where you can indulge in a plate filled with a variety of local favorites.

Santa Catalina 210, Arequipa

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Limo

Come here for a blend of Peruvian/Japanese flavors, known as Nikkei cuisine. This spot is praised for some of the best ceviche in Cusco. Order up a traditional ceviche limo, made with white fish or seafood; ceviche nikkei, made with tuna, avocado and shoyu; or mix it up with a hot ceviche, featuring Peruvian chili sauce and grilled arapaima. Located right in the Plaza de Armas, the elegant interiors with Asiatic design elements make for a one-of-a-kind dining experience. Ask for a balcony seat for an amazing view of the Plaza.

Portal de Carnes 236, Cusco

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Ceviche Seafood Kitchen

A bright, nautical interior transports you to the sea during your time in the majestic Andes. Nestled on a cozy corner of the Plaza, this is a great place for affordable and delicious ceviche. Start off with a leche de tigre appetizer. For your main, choose from four types of ceviche. The ceviche clasico, made the traditional way. Ceviche calle, with white fish and seafood topped with fried fish and accompanied by fried yucca and glazed sweet potato. Ceviche barrio, topped with golden fried calamari. Or you can order the ceviche caliente, served hot with seared Andean trout.

Portal de Panes 181, Cusco

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Mealtime tips

Enjoy ceviche for lunch.

As Monique wrote in her Peru for Less blog “Exploring Lima on 2 Wheels [Part I]: One pedal, one bite at a time,” “[i]t’s recommended that you eat it as early as possible in the day…while no one will stop you, most limeños know it’s best to eat it as early as possible in the day, as the freshness of the fish dictates the texture and flavors.”

Skip lunchtime crowds.

Lunch is the biggest meal of the day for most Peruvians. Arrive at cevicherías before 1 pm or make reservations to avoid long restaurant wait times.

Order cerveza to drink.

Ceviche served with a chilled beer is an iconic summertime meal in Peru. Pilsen Callao and Cusqueña are traditional cervezas in Lima or browse the restaurant menu for craft beer selections from Barbarian, Candelaria, or Sierra Andina.

Normal de picante?

Ceviche in Lima is usually prepared with at least a little rocoto pepper that adds a spicy kick to your meal. Tell your server “sin picante” if you prefer your ceviche without any spice. Another option is to ask for the rocoto on the side so you can add what spice, if any, you desire.