By: David Diaz-Marini, chef specializing in Peruvian and international food, grill master in a local restaurant, also offers catering Peruvian dishes
One of the most popular dishes in Latin America is the delicious cebiche, ceviche or seviche. The truth is that the name has been written in many different ways, but if you look up the word in the dictionary of the Real Academia de la Lengua Española, you will find it as “Cebiche,” believe me, I already did.
We can find various forms and styles of preparation along the Pacific coast of the continent beginning with Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Central America and Mexico, and even in areas of the Caribbean in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, although always maintaining a common denominator in their preparation, which is fish and/or seafood marinated in an acidic medium.
The great dissemination throughout the continent of such succulent delicacy, apparently, flourishes in the late XIX and early XX century, but has its antecedents in the colonial years. During those days, the powerful influence of the Viceroyalty of Peru would set trends throughout the colonies, along with the Viceroyalty of Nueva España (Mexico), this explains the commonalities in traditions and customs, which is why we share a series of culinary traditions more or less similar in all our countries.
One example is our popular tamal, and it’s strange to be known with the same name in virtually all of Latin America being the original Nahuatl, the language pre-Hispanic Aztec (tamalli = wrapped).
Returning to our cebiche, it is very likely that its origin is pre-Columbian. There is evidence based on archaeological studies, showing how the ancient inhabitants of the Moche culture, a pre-Inca civilization in Peru’s north coast, had their diet made with macerated raw fish and a fermented fruit called “tumbo”, which they would mixed with aji peppers.
As for the origin of the name, things get tricky. I could find over twenty different theories about the origin of the name, some of them quite outrageous and absurd to say the least. Among some of the most serious we have the Peruvian historian Dr. Juan Jose Vega Bello, in one of his works “Pizarro in Piura” (Lima, Peru, Change and Development Institute, 1993. 371 p.) he indicates that moorish women who arrived with Francisco Pizarro would gather bitter orange juice, aji (peruvian chili), fish and local algae, resulting in a new local dish called ‘sibech’, which in Arabic means “acid food”.
Jorge Stanbury Aguirre in his book ‘The Great Peruvian Cuisine’ (Top Publications Lima, 2003) says: “As for the cebiche, there are versions that fishermen, while pulling the nets, would squeeze lemon juice onto pieces of fish that they used as bait and then ate with a condiment …[translated]. Writer Jorge Stanbury, continuing his work: “Cebiche does not have an accurate spelling. No one knows the origin of the word. And perhaps the word cebiche was just one of many that were used in the pre-Inca kingdoms. Therefore we can write sebiche, ceviche, ceviche and seviche”.
In Peru the cebiche is considered an official national signature dish; we even have the ‘National day of the Ceviche – June 28′, but anyway, whatever the form of preparing it or the type of ingredients used, we all agree that this traditional dish is a delight and a favorite of US Hispanics and is always a good reason to share it with family and friends. !Bon appétit!