I ate a lot of ceviche in Lima. In the name of research and pleasure, of course. I sought out sustainable options, but Lima doesn’t always know what sustainable means in the first place. Farmed fish fed wild fishfeed? Not so sustainable, especially if it’s laced with antibiotics. The soy and corn-based versions are almost as bad in my books, except they don’t involve giant trawlers tearing up the seabeds/homes of other species. At least the vegetarian feed maybe isn’t GMO because Peru doesn’t have much or ay of that in the country. But the big question is, who really knows? What’s the traceability of the fish, its feed and how do you map its environmental impact? Fish stocks are hard enough to monitor, and that seems to be the factor over which a fishery has the most control.
Anyway, all that to say, I avoid a lot of shrimp because it’s farmed and a lot of bivalves because they potentially come from unclean waters and are particularly good at absorbing all those bad things that I don’t want to eat for dinner. I avoid swordfish because it’s huge and easily overfished. And I avoid tuna often because, although the Peruvian fishery is theoretically sustainable, at least in some areas and when caught by certain sizes of boats using certain fishing methods and net sizes (small boats, hook and line or nets with large holes through which smaller species can escape). I avoid salmon because all the salmon i Peru is farmed Chilean ad I don’t know what those farms are like (salmon farms in Canada are generally awful. I will not eat Atlantic salmon. Ever. Pacific only if I trust the fishermen, fishmonger and/or restaurant). Then there are species I have no idea about – corvhina, viuda, chita, South America sole (which is much better than north American in terms of flavour and texture).
Hungry? Yeah, me too. Starving, in fact. But there are a handful of cevicherias in Lima (the city has over 2000) that are trying to use sustainable fish. At least some. Most still seem to think everything farmed is fine. But at least they’re thinking about it and trying to do something positive. And the ceviche itself is pretty good. It’s fresh, and runs from great renditions of the classic with red onions, glazed yam, white corn, a single leaf of lettuce and a lime-red chili pepper-salt marinating liquid that “cooks” the fish into silky submission.
Here are a couple of the places I tried:
What I loved: The portion is huge. The corn is also enormous, bigger than normal even. The lettuce has more green than iceberg, and this is probably the only ceviche place I’m not afraid to eat it. Normally I’d be scared about the water they wash it in, but with so may tourists coming through here (it’s the city’s most popular and reputable cevicheria. I dare you to find a single new guidebook without it listed) they can’t take their chances. And they’re making tons of money on it and can probably afford to wash their fruits and vegetables in filtered water.
It’s also the only place I’m confident enough to order a strawberry juice (blended strawberries with sugar) in Lima. Anything not peel and eaten raw does not go in my stomach in this city without a good 30 minute soak with antibacterial drops in water to clean it first. The strawberry juice was delicious. So ripe and sweet and not watered down.
The fish itself (the sole and corvhina) was very good. Some pieces were better than others but each piece was cut evenly (this is wasteful but makes sure all the pieces marinated in the same amount of time instead of having certain pieces over-“cooked” or under-“cooked” in the lime juice.
Plus you get three salsas and freshly made banana and yam slices (deep-fried like chips) to snack on with your standard dried and salted corn snacks while you wait. The sustainable viuda fish (the special of the day) wasn’t so great. Sustainable, yay! But tough and a bit fishy, though it was very fresh.
This place does a bunch of fusion ceviches, which I actually encourage you to try. Normally I say stick with the classic (and the classic here was my favourite of the city!), and my Japanese dinner partner would agree (especially when it comes to sushi), but the versions here with mango chutney and peaches or soy and tomato and sesame (all served with red onions, white corn and yams) were incredibly and addictively sweet. I loved it. Some people will hate it. Limenans, whose sweet teeth are even sweeter than mine, will also love it. There’s also a full menu with tons of other delicious-sounding options, but this was my favourite cevicheria overall. The classic with corvhina was perfect – the fish was the right size, marinated just long enough so it was tender, and though there were too may red onions and they were a bit stingy on the fish, I left feeling full and satisfied. Big appetites will be disappointed. I was happy as a clam, though I didn’t eat of those here. They didn’t have conchas negras when I went.
The sweet potatoes (yams, actually) are extra sweet (braised in sweetened orange juice or just sugar is my guess). Great for that national sweet tooth. Oh! And the white corn was actually fresher here. A little sweeter, but mostly juicier and…just fresher.
This was my first conchas negras of my trip. It wasn’t nearly as good as I remembered. It didn’t taste very fresh. Mind you, I went at suppertime, and I’d heard Canta Rana (owed by the kids of the owners of this place) was better, but it was clsed at night, as many ceviche places do (some say the lime is hard on late-night digestion and others say the fish is fresher in the morning, though with modern refrigeration that’s less of an issue. Self respecting sushi places could never be open for dinner either if that were true).
Plus service was pretty awful even though we were the only people in the restaurant for the first 30 minutes we were there. It filled up a little with (probably) tourists (they were still South American, not European, North American or Australian) later but it was not a happening joint in the evening either way.
The corvhina tiradito was also pretty bad. It wasn’t tender. It was mostly stringy. And they served it to my Japanese friend who has had her fair share of great sashimi. And that chunk of hacked yam?
El Pez On
The name of the restaurant is a play on words (“pez on” is a Spanish/English combo meaning “fish on top of something” but “pezon” is slang for male genitalia). The restaurant is pretty fun and packed at lunch. It’s loud and inefficient and squished and exciting. The tiradito is swimming in the amarillo chili and lime sauce above and there are some extra creamy sauces in the middle of the table that come with the salty dried corn snacks to start. Not that there was anything to dip in them. They assume you’ll order calamari or other fried things to dip at some point. I didn’t. The tiradito was disappointing. It was tough and poorly cut. But my friend’s classic ceviche with sole was very respectable. And for 30 soles (around $12) it was a very good deal. The lemonade we split with the table was also fine. Too sweet and watered down, of course. But a squeeze of lime helped. The location is convenient in Miraflores. If La Mar was in this location instead I’d go there religiously. Or Pescados Capitales.
Or La Pescaderia
No pictures, just a short video. I sat at the bar and had my little fish consommé amuse bouche to start. Too salty. I thought it might be MSG. I got the standard sole ceviche and saw the guy in front of me making it. There’s a hot kitchen straight in front of the entrance at the back when you walk in, but the ceviche and tiradito happens on the right where I sat. The fish stays safe and cool in sushi restaurant-style displays. And the chef even made me a little special dish of seared tuna (he ordered it from the kitchen for me as a treat without my knowing) and I couldn’t eat it because of gluten and dairy intolerances. It was a really nice gesture to a lady sitting alone at the bar, though. This place is pricey, but I was very happy with it. I’m less happy that they deliver. Ceviche should be eaten fresh with a fairly precise marinating time, so delivery and all that jostling the leche de tigre (the marinating juices that accumulate with the fish juices as it “cooks”) sound like a bad idea for the food but a good idea for business.
It’s a really nice setting and on a Sunday afternoon it’s full of Limenan families having a leisurely refined lunch. Definitely upscale in Barranco, an area known for more affordable places, such as Burrito Bar (salty fish tacos and pork burritos with house-made salsa, guac, rice and refried beans on house-made flour tortillas (or a bed of rice for the gluten-intolerant when they run out of frozen corn tortillas). Delicious. But these restaurants are worlds apart. Both are great.
And all the ceviche places are good too. Except Canta Rana. I’d go back there to give them a second chance at lunch, but I’d head to Canta Rana first if I was in Barranco, and happily return to La Pescaderia for the nice ceviche chef and my seat at the bar. It’s also really fun to watch them use a kitchen torch for all their fusion maki and bruléed things. The menu is huge and fancy and can really put a dent in your pocketbook, though you’ll probably be very happy.