My daughter and I ate at Lima Criolla after seeing a French movie at the Austin Film Society last week. This was the first time either of us had Peruvian food.
We ordered ceviche which happily turned out to be very different than what we expected. We often order ceviche at Mexican restaurants which is usually finely diced and served as a dip with chips. The ceviche at Lima Criolla had similar spices but the pieces of fish were quite large and instead of chips, we were given a fork. It also came with a side of cold sweet potatoes, crunchy dried corn, and HUGE kernels of delicious Peruvian corn. We savored every bit of it.
The origins of ceviche, a dish made from raw fish that has been cured in citrus juices and spiced with chili peppers and cilantro, is debated but it is thought to have originated in Peru. The Moche (or Mochica) culture which flourished in Northern Peru from 100-700 AD had a similar dish which used the fermented juice of banana passionfruit to marinate the fish. Banana passionfruit is a passionfruit that looks like a small banana, but it isn’t actually related to bananas or plantains. It is a native plant of Peru that got it’s name from New Zealand where the banana passionfruit is also cultivated.
The Inca Empire, which existed 1500 years later in the same area of Peru as where the Moche lived, also had a dish of fermented fish that was seasoned with cilantro and aje. The Incas fermented their fish with chichi, an alcoholic beverage that was generally reserved for religious rituals. It is thought that the natives simply switched to fermenting their fish with citrus juice after the Spanish brought citrus to Peru because it was more convenient. (And maybe less hallucinogenic?)
And just a quick note on Peruvian corn because my daughter and I had never seen anything like it until our experience at Lima Criolla…
Peruvian Corn is a very large kerneled corn that is also referred to as Choclo or Cuzco corn, names given to the corn by the Incan Empire. It is still widely grown in the Peruvian Andes (as well as other Andean countries). In Peru, it is most commonly roasted into crunchy corn nuts or served with ceviche. Full ears of choclo served with cheese is also a very popular street food in Peru.
But back to ceviche…
Many theories back up the claim that ceviche originated in Peru. There are Archaeological records that show the Moche consumed something very similar 2000 years ago and that the Incas carried on the tradition by marinating fish in chichi. There is also a theory that Moorish women from Granada, who accompanied the Spanish Conquistadors to Peru, introduced the dish to Peru.
However ceviche got to Peru, it is currently a very delicious national dish of Peru and is also popular, in various forms, throughout the Americas.