I’ve become a fierce defender of Peru’s culinary heritage. Home in Australia recently, overhearing a man at the next table explaining to his friends that the unfamiliar “Pisco” on the drinks menu is a Chilean spirit, I had to physically restrain myself from leaping to my feet to correct him. I think with shame of a year working in a Brisbane restaurant, in which we all earnestly explained ceviche to curious customers as a Chilean dish.
When I mustered the courage to confess this to my Peruvian friends, they shook their heads in disgust. “Chilenos,” they muttered darkly.
There’s a long-standing rivalry between the two countries, and this whole gastronomic controversy doesn’t help matters. Peruvians, and especially those from the coastal regions, are fiercely proud of ceviche, their national dish, and Pisco, the national intoxicant. Now that we’re standing on the verge of the heralded “boom” of Peruvian cuisine, their legacy may seem to be assured, but grudges are still nursed, and the uncomfortable fact remains that ceviche, in one form or another, is prepared and consumed in Mexico, south through Central America and Ecuador, and even in dreaded Chile.
Peru’s celebrity chef, Gastón Acurio, chalks this up to Lima’s dominance throughout four centuries as the capital of the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru. The dish was exported to the various Spanish colonies in the region, and adopted into the local cuisine.
So the Peruvians did it first, and for this biased observer they do it the best, as well. There’s nothing quite like sitting at a plastic table on a Peruvian beach, with friends, cold beer in hand and a dizzying array of seafood spread before you. The star dish, ceviche, is spicy, complex, refreshing: thinly slice fish, tossed in lime juice, seasoned with any combination of spicy ají, coriander, ginger, milk, garlic… there’s a thousand variations.
For me, and for my Peruvian friends, ceviche is the defining taste of summer in Lima.
About the authorCamden