Tastes of Latin America: Whose Ceviche Is Best?
If you’ve spent any time in Latin America, you know that the nearly every country, from as far north as Mexico to as far south as Tierra del Fuego in Chile, brags about their ceviche, with several claiming it as their national dish. At Classic Journeys, we travel on our stomachs. And with trips throughout Central and South America, we’ve tasted every ceviche recipe and had every one of our fiercely proud local guides explain with great passion why their ceviche recipes are the best.
Typically made from fresh raw fish cured in lemon or lime juice, and spiced with ají, chili peppers and seasonings that often include onions, salt, and coriander, ceviche is not cooked and so must be prepared and eaten fresh. (So truly sea to table). We love that it is usually accompanied by side dishes that are very local to the place where you are eating it, such as sweet potato, corn, avocado, or banana. And even better, it’s truly a window into cultures, as the origin is hotly debated up and down the Pacific coast of Latin America.
Here, we’ve given your mind, body and palate a bit of culinary escapism by asking our guides and chefs in every Classic Journeys Latin American country along the Pacific coast to share their favorite ceviche recipe and to tell us why theirs is best. Buen provecho!
Why Is Peruvian Ceviche Best?
Many countries will claim that their ceviche is the best, but only Peru claims it as the national dish. Additionally, as one of our Peruvian guides, Marisol, says, “We have archeological records that show us that ceviche may have been consumed in Peru nearly two thousand years ago. And later, when Lima held a dominant position as the capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru, it meant that popular dishes like ceviche were brought to other Spanish colonies. So, our ceviche is the heart and soul of everyone else’s ceviche! The most important ingredients? Peru’s famous Lech de Tigre marinade and key limes!”
For the Leche de Tigre (Peruvian marinade)
1 cup of fresh key lime juice
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon of chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon of finely chopped ginger
1 small onion, chopped
½ cup fish stock or clam juice
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
For the ceviche
1 pound of fresh fish (fluke / flounder / sole / halibut / escolar) cut into ½ inch cubes
1 sweet potato
½ cup of sweetcorn
½ habanero chile, seeded and halved lengthways
1 small onion, thinly sliced
Cilantro leaves to garnish
For the Leche de Tigre –
Use a blender to puree the key lime juice, cilantro leaves, ginger, garlic and chilli with a handful of ice cubes.
Add the chopped union and blend, then strain through a sieve, collecting the liquid in a bowl.
Stir in fish stock / clam juice and add salt. Chill in fridge.
For the ceviche –
Cook the sweet potato whole, then leave to chill.
Cook the corn and leave to chill.
Take a large bowl and rub the sides with the cut chili.
Add the fish, leche de tigre, ¾ of the onion, and a handful of ice cubes, then stir together. Leave for 5 minutes, then remove the ice.
Gently stir in the potato (scoop out small balls with a spoon) and corn.
Season to taste.
Serve into small bowls, pouring over the juices left in the big bowl.
Garnish with remaining ¼ of onion and cilantro leaves.
Why Is Ecuadorian Ceviche Best? Ecuadorian ceviche has a citrusy tang to it that makes it stand apart from other ceviche. Traditionally, it’s served sprinkled with toasted corn and eaten with plantain chips. Classic Journeys naturalist guide on Isabela Island, Sebastian, is not only expert on the birds, plants, animals and sea life; his grandfather was the president of Ecuador! So he’s justifiable proud of the country’s ceviche and why he thinks it’s best. “Well, we marinate the onion in lime juice and combine orange juice. Plus, we have the best shrimp in the world! It all adds up to create the best ceviche ever!”
1 pound of shrimp
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup of fresh lime juice
1 cup of fresh orange juice
2 cloves of garlic
2 bay leaves
1 x 15oz can of chopped tomatoes
1 handful of cilantro leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon of mustard
Green plantain chips or ‘chifles’
1 cup of toasted corn
Salt & pepper to taste
Thinly slice the onion and place in a bowl, then cover with the fresh lime juice. Let it soak for a good hour or more.
Mix the chopped tomatoes, orange juice and mustard, then refrigerate.
Boil the shrimp in water, with the bay leaves and garlic cloves.
Once cooked, remove from the heat and add ice to cool the water, then refrigerate.
When everything is nicely chilled, mix it all together.
Serve in individual bowls and add toasted corn on top.
To eat, scoop up the ceviche with green plantain chips (we call them chifles).
Why Is Guatemalan Ceviche Best?
The Guatemalans swear by a particular ingredient… “Our secret is Worcestershire sauce!”, shares Classic Journeys expert local, Marlon. “It makes Guatemalan ceviche the best in the world. The other secret is eating your ceviche with the Guatemalan beer, Gallo. If you can’t get Gallo beer, Cerveza Modelo Especial is a good alternative.” Who does he make his ceviche for? His wife, who he calls Princess Evelin, with this backstory. I was visiting the dentist, which in Guatemala is considered a luxury. I arrived for my first visit and was immediately fascinated by the beauty of the young secretary at the clinic. That same day the dentist convinced me to sign a contract for two years to receive an unnecessary orthodontic treatment (braces), which I didn’t really need. But this meant I could keep going back to the office. I Intentionally forgot the date of the next appointment so that the secretary had to call me to reschedule and we would begin to slowly talk about non-dental things. Soon we began to go out for dinners and other dates, and I made her my ceviche. Six months later she became my girlfriend and in 2012 we got married. Did she marry me for myself or my ceviche?”
1 cup of crab meat
½ cup of freshly squeezed lime juice
3 tomatoes, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small red onion
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup of tomato juice
Salt to taste
Cook the shrimp in pan of water, then place in iced water.
When cool, cut the shrimp into smaller pieces.
Soak the onion in a bowl of water and salt (about 2 cups water to ½ teaspoon salt). After 10 minutes, strain and rinse.
Mix together the shrimp, crab meat, cilantro, garlic, soy sauce, tomato juice, lime juice and don’t forget the Worcestershire sauce!
Refrigerate for an hour.
Add chopped avocado and serve, with hot sauce!
Why Is Colombian Ceviche Best?
Served fresh on Colombian beachfronts, this ceviche is marvelously simple to make, and most recipes only need a few ingredients that you’ll probably already have in your fridge. Most commonly, shrimp serves as the staple seafood but if you can get your hands on some fresh seabass, it’s absolutely delicious. “Ketchup! It may sound like something you would put on a burger rather than seafood,” says Ana Maria in Colombia. “But trust me, it tastes better than any other ceviche you will ever eat!”
1 pound of shrimp
1 small red onion, sliced
Half a cup of fresh parsley
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup of fresh lime juice
1 cup of ketchup
1 tablespoon of mayonnaise
Hot sauce (to taste)
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Mix together the ketchup, mayonnaise, olive oil, lime juice and most of the parsley (save some to garnish!)
Boil the shrimp, then drop into ice water.
Combine the shrimp, onion and garlic with the sauce.
Add hot sauce, salt and pepper to your taste.
Put in the fridge for an hour.
Serve in small bowls, with the rest of the parsley leaves sprinkled on top. Eat with saltine crackers!
Why Is Costa Rican Ceviche Best?
In Costa Rica, ceviche is traditionally made with sea bass or mahi mahi, incorporating bell peppers and hot pepper. “Tico’s LOVE ceviche, it’s best served on a Costa Rica beach! You can eat it with tortilla chips, or a soft flour tortilla like a burrito,” shares long-time Classic Journeys tour leader and naturalist, Kenneth.
1 pound sea bass / mahi mahi, chopped into cubes
1 cup fresh lemon / lime juice
1 small red onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
Handful of cilantro leaves (Tito’s call this coriander)
1 chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped into small squares
It’s simple, just mix everything together!
Put it in the fridge–at least for an hour, or overnight.
Scoop up your ceviche with tortilla chips, or crumble some on top and eat with a spoon.
Why Is Chilean Ceviche Best? You can recognize Chilean Ceviche by its meticulously diced ingredients. From the fish to the bell peppers, everything is chopped into tiny pieces, before being infused with spicy, citrusy flavors. “Grapefruit juice is our secret to giving ceviche in Chile the extra kick! Rule number one is to use fresh fish. Rule two, we like to chop everything into the smallest pieces possible. After that, it’s hard to go wrong!” Classic Journeys tour leader, Andres, knows a thing or two about fresh fish. In addition to being one of the top cultural guides in the country, he is an expert mountaineer, is an accomplished fly fishing guide, and managed a fishing lodge for many years.
1 pound of white fish, diced into small pieces (about a quarter inch)
1 lemon, juiced
1 grapefruit, juiced
1 lemon, cut into wedges
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Half of a yellow onion, diced
1 cup of cucumber, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
½ cup of cilantro, chopped
½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon of paprika
Salt and pepper
Pour the fresh lemon and grapefruit juice over the fish.
Put into the fridge for an hour at least.
Add onion, peppers, cucumber, garlic, cilantro, cayenne, paprika, salt, pepper.
Put it all back into the fridge for 30 minutes to one hour.
Serve in bowls, with a lemon wedge! Scoop up with tortilla chips.
Why Is Panamanian Ceviche Best?
Grapefruit and celery are two essential ingredients in Panamanian ceviche, and most natives will tell you to use lemon juice, instead of lime. “Ceviche is a staple in Panama, we have it every week at least,” says Classic Journeys man-in-the-know and resident naturalist, Beny. “I’ll go to the local fish market early in the morning and collect whatever looks good to me, then mix everything together and enjoy it as the sun sets that evening.”
1 pound of fresh fish (red snapper, rockfish, cod or something similar) chopped into small pieces
¼ cup of cilantro
½ cup of lemon juice
1 habanero pepper, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1 grapefruit, cut into wedges
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
Marinate the fish with lime juice, onions, cilantro, garlic for 6-12 hours.
Mix in celery and pepper.
Serve with grapefruit and hot sauce.
Why Is Belizean Ceviche Best?
Belizean ceviche features chunks of raw fish mixed into a fresh salsa. Conch is the nation’s favorite choice of seafood in ceviche, but you can swap that for shrimp, lobster or any other seafood. Steve is the captain of the catamaran Classic Journeys charters for guests private exploration of Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Alley. He says, “We love raw fish in Belize, and conch is the best, I catch it myself so it couldn’t be fresher! Growing up, sometimes we would have it made with cooked chicken feet!”
1 pound of raw conch, trimmed, peeled, cut into cubes (or swap for shrimp or your favorite raw fish)
4 tomatoes, diced
1 onion, diced
6 limes, juiced
1 habanero pepper, diced
1 cup of cilantro , chopped
Wash then cut the conch (or whatever seafood you choose) into bite-sized chunks.
Soak it in the lime juice for at least 1 hour.
Make a salsa with the tomatoes, onion, pepper, cilantro, salt and lime juice.
Mix in the seafood.
Eat with corn tortillas!