Ceviche: Dish or enigma?


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Of all the dishes found throughout Latin America, ceviche is one of the most famous. While several countries have tried to appropriate it as a national dish, the real bone of contention as to its true inventor is between Ecuador and Peru. Peru’s version has certainly burst on to the international food scene, while Ecuador’s is largely unknown.

In Ecuador, recipes vary tremendously by region. That said, the Manabita version (which some argue is the original) is perhaps the most enigmatic of all, its secrets being the most necessary ingredient to accurately capture its iconic (and glorious) flavor.

In stark contrast to Peru’s sashimi-like fish dish, Ecuador’s version of ceviche is a cold soup. Many chefs and Ecuadorian cooks dress their recipe with a number of condiments (and a lot of salt) to transform it into an always delightful treat, but the most amazing thing about Manabita ceviche is its simplicity.

In terms of the balance of these flavors, we will not disclose millennially kept secrets here.

The classic ceviche flows from almost nothing: water with selected seafood or fresh fish pieces. Just how this basic combination converts itself into the delicacy that is ceviche is a true mystery. But we can say, with total authority, that the specific preparation of this magical liquid is the reason for ceviche’s world-renowned success. There are, of course, herbs and spices – cilantro, pickled onions, tomato and olive oil – that later enhance the base flavor. But many homes give you these latter ingredients as side orders, so that you can add them on at will. It is essential, of course, that fish and seafood be freshly caught, and perhaps the success of Manabita ceviche is the province’s proximity to the ocean.

CEVICHE FACTSEcuadorian ceviche is not one-size-fits-all. It comes in many shapes and forms. In Manabí alone there are a slew of variations. The classic fish ceviche is the simplest, but shrimp ceviche has become popular in recent decades; Manabí recipes for shrimp ceviche respect the simplicity of the original, but elsewhere the base juice/soup changes (in Quito, it can even seem more like a shrimp cocktail than a ceviche). But there are many ceviches of interest, such as minced crab marinated in cilantro, lime and sour orange juice (an absolute delight) or concha (shellfish) ceviche with its soup blackened by the natural ink. Find oyster ceviche in carts along the beach, served with cilantro, onion, a little lemon juice: fresh and delicious.

The pinchagua ceviche is made from a little fish caught by thousands in the area, and has become popular for its affordability, as well as the tenderness of the meat.

Other ceviche fish staples include swordfish, whose solid flesh is usually cut into small squares; and dorado, a fleshy fish whose volume makes it a heartier dish.

In Manta … all ceviche invariably has a slice of cucumber.

The Portoviejo and Jipijapa ceviche for some reason are considered the traditional recipes, and they almost always carry diced green pepper; some say the idea of including olive oil began here. In Jipijapa, the classic fish ceviche was served at El Pirata.

We have not tracked down where the custom of adding mustard and ketchup to ceviche originated. Many leave these condiments aside, but some chefs include them as part of the recipe.

Well over a decade ago, at Jipijapa dive Los Negritos, and later at “Pepe,”, a curious ceviche with peanut sauce and a slice of avocado appeared on the menu. Now it is considered a must on any gastronomic itinerary: you cannot leave Manabí without trying it!

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