Isabel’s Not-Your-Peruvian-Mother’s Ceviche

StoryJames WillimetzComment

“Really?” I said to Isabel. What I wanted to say, to shout, was, “No way! Blasphemy! You can’t make it with that! That’s not ceviche!” She had just told me that she added ketchup to her Ecuadorean shrimp ceviche.

Ceviche, to a Peruvian (and to a gringo who grew up in Peru eating ceviche), can never have ketchup. Or mustard. Or orange juice. How many times had I scoffed at the Mexicans, who sometimes put tomatoes in their version of ceviche? And Isabel used ALL of these ingredients. But I have learned to never say never and anyway, how could I complain when I had a mouthful of Isabel’s heavenly, mouth-watering shrimp ceviche. I just mumbled, “Really?”

I wanted to try making it. She told me all the ingredients, but when I asked her how much of each ingredient, she said, “Lo que es, no mas.” (Just the right amount, no more.) “But how do I know?” I insisted. “Hay que llegar al punto de sabor.” (You have to reach the point of flavor.) Easy for her to say, she knows how it’s supposed to taste. I understood that you have to find a balance between sweet and sour, but I wanted something more codified, a recipe. She agreed that the next time she made it, I could watch her and try to calculate and write down the amounts of each ingredient. The results are in the recipe. It’s easy to make and fabulous.

I offered to make this ceviche for my Peruvian family when they visited once, and though they mumbled and grumbled at the ingredient list, now they beg me to make it every time I go to Lima.

You serve it in a bowl with a spoon with chifles (salty plantain or banana chips). In Jipijapa, Ecuador, they serve it with a peanut butter sauce. Weird, but OK. And then Isabel told me the most shocking thing they serve it with, American-style popcorn. My jaw dropped. I said, “Really?”

Illustration by So Yeon Kim.