It’s as if merely saying the word “ceviche” will transport diners to a beach as soon as it rolls off their tongues. And it’s probably because, in their minds, the concept is filed under “seaside.”
Usually prepared with cubed or shredded fish or seafood that is cooked by letting it marinate in citrus and spices — which vary according to region — ceviche is as ubiquitous as it is diverse. Different fruits, vegetables, and condiments are added depending on location and season.
Popping up on Chicago menus just as often as ceviche does, either in addition or instead of it, the no less delicious aguachile often elicits the question, how is it different? Born in northwestern Mexico, aguachile (chili water) is also prepared by cooking raw seafood (usually butterflied shrimp or conch) in a spicy and acidic marinade, but for a shorter time. Cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions are also typically added.
Much like people’s relationship with taquerías in Mexico City, those who have the good fortune to live near the ocean will likely have a favorite seafood vendor. Aguachile is often sold from food carts (called carretas) that are well-stocked with corn tostadas and saltine crackers. Unique salsas also help to differentiate selections.
Spelled ceviche, cebiche, sebiche, or seviche, the plate’s origin cannot be isolated to one place or people. It’s a mixture of pre-Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Asian cultures, along with their contributions in terms of ingredients and techniques. And while it might not be in every corner or streetside, in Chicago, an exciting place of culinary convergence, creativity, and discovery, ceviche and aguachile are increasingly easy to find.
In addition to Mexican or Mexican-inspired executions of both dishes, Chicagoans can enjoy ceviche in South American variations. Peruvian ceviche deserves a list of its own, as it was named the country’s national dish in 2008.
And although both ceviche and aguachile are fundamentally minimalistic, cooks agree that preparing them is a process that requires both skill and a thorough understanding of the ingredients.Read More