Ceviche: 5 Variations of the Inka Original Seafood Dish

Dale Carson

A wide-mouthed, long stemmed cocktail glass sits before me, holding ceviche almost too pretty to eat.

Ceviche (she-BEE-chay), also spelled cebiche in some countries, is a classic appetizer that in recent years has snowballed in popularity across the world—particularly along the coast.

Ceviche is essentially a marinated seafood salad with as many variations as music.

Nearly every South American country from Mexico down to Chile has its own recipe, though the technique of "cooking" raw fish or shellfish in acidic fruit juice is said to have started in Peru, which counts ceviche as its national dish.

While Spaniards introduced the lemons, limes and bitter oranges most often used for ceviche marinades today, it is believed that Inka peoples preserved raw seafood in the juice of an indigenous fruit called tumbo, indigenous to Peru.

The heart of ceviche is fresh, fresh fish or shellfish—sushi grade—cut into bite-size pieces, then marinated in citric acid, usually lime. The citric acid changes the appearance of the fish, turning it opaque, while changing the structure of the proteins, making the fish firmer.

It is the variations of the dish that make it so exciting—from culture to culture, or even restaurant to restaurant, as many chefs try to reinvent the staple with a unique spin on the traditional.

A popular beach food, it is interesting to note that most food shacks and restaurants that serve ceviche usually close by 4 p.m. Among South American residents, it is mainly a breakfast, mid-morning or lunch favorite.

Regional differences in how the dish is served and garnished are often wildly unusual or exotic, though there are some generic ingredients that thread their way through most. Lime juice, tomatoes, some form of onion, cilantro or parsley seem to form a base. One popular garnish is tortilla chips, which make a great scooping tool.

Below, I share the most beloved ceviche recipes from Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Cuba and Costa Rica.


The Inka used the juice of the tart tumbo fruit to marinate fresh fish. Today, lime or orange juice is most often used.  The ceviche here is usually garnished with thin-sliced onions, hot aji amarillo or rocoto chili peppers, with cold sweet potatoes and corn-on-the-cob on the side, cut into several slices, and black olives.


Here, the ceviche is often served in fresh tomato sauce with chilies, garnished with popcorn, corn nuts and other exotics. It is served family-style from a large bowl and can be eaten as a soup as well.  


Ceviche is very fashionable in Brazil right now due to a Peruvian cuisine craze. Brazilians, however, generally prefer their ceviche with their plentiful mango, pineapple and carambola (starfruit). They have a vast coastline, which accommodates many beach ceviche stands.


Ceviche in Cuba gets a little kick from allspice. Shrimp is the preferred seafood ingredient, scallops as well.  Being an island, there are lots of choices of fresh seafood. They like to garnish with scallions and serve it with plantain chips on the side.


Ceviche in Mexico is often served taco-style and garnished with hot sauce. Popular ingredients are mahi-mahi, tilapia, sea bass, red snapper, scallops and shrimp. They often add tomatillos, avocados, black olives and cucumbers with some salsa on top for good measure.

Costa Rica    

In this beautiful country they use club soda and fresh ginger in the marinade. The base: scallops, shrimp, sea bass and the same fruit-de-mer as Mexico from their mutual two coasts.

A recipe for the base of classic ceviche, or "ceviche de pescado tradicional," is below, but take creative license. Why not add jimica, garlic and squid?

Classic Ceviche   

1 pound fresh seafood (cut in ½ inch pieces)
1 cup cherry tomatoes (rough chopped)
2 chili peppers (seeded and minced)
¾ cup cilantro
½ cup red onion, (finely diced)
1 cup lime juice
½ teaspoon salt

Combine all in a glass or other non-metal bowl and stir to blend. Refrigerate at least three hours.

Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.

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Tzintzi's picture
Submitted by Tzintzi on
I just have to comment on this. My mother is Maya Tzotzil from Chiapas,Mexico. We are a proud indigenous people of North America. Can someone please explain to me how Mexico is part of South America when it is part of the North American Continent? As far as geography is concerned South America begins at only needs to look at a map. I find it very ignorant for people to call other indigenous nations south american simply because of the colonizers language..spanish hundreds of indigenous languages are still spoken. It would be like the world calling native americans British. And yet, Canada natives are many times acknowledged as native americans...why, because they speak english. As far as Im concerned I feel this is a very brain washed mentality that Native Americans have think like their oppressors. Instead of keeping our nations seperated, why not realize our similarites...You'd be surprised at how American Indian our real food really is. Authentic native food still exists...just look to the south. And yes, we are native american indians...we are part of the americas too. I hope Native Americans in the u.s and canada can finally see this one day, and learn from their grandfathers...then maybe we'd get somewhere.

Submitted by digidaygo on
Tzintzi, I understand your frustration, as well as your point. The focus should lie on the origin of where WE ARE FROM. I am native Mexica and we are all of the same. This has been our land for thousands of years. Tombs, name it. Egypt has nothing on our ancestry. Well...OK....close. Very close. Perhaps the idea is to think bigger. Why draw lines based on borders. (FYI- Columbia and Mexico are "Sentrul e'Murka" lol) Regardless. The idea is to move forward. Stay focused on nothing but the outcome. Mother is coming for her children. She will take care of us just like she always has. Only the fit will survive. I'll see you there. J.