You’ll find ceviche everywhere in Peru, from the coast to the highlands to the Amazon jungle in the east.
Sometimes the fish will have traveled just a few yards before arriving in the kitchen, where skilled chefs prepare an exceptionally fresh ceviche.
Elsewhere, that same fish might arrive on your plate after a voyage of a few hundred miles or more. Transported on ice, the fish arrives in a perfectly servable state, but nothing can compare to a ceviche made with the very freshest catch of the day.
So where will you find restaurants serving the freshest and most authentic ceviche in Peru? Is it only along the coast? And just for lunch, or dinner too?
Peru’s Regional Ceviche Hotspots
Peru’s 1,500-mile coastline is the traditional place for classic ceviche. You’ll see cevicherias -- restaurants specializing in ceviche -- everywhere, selling plates of ceviche made using freshly caught sea fish such as grouper, sea bass and corvina.
When I think of ceviche, I always think of the sea and coastal cities like Lima, Trujillo and Chiclayo. In many inland locations, the fish has to come from the coast, either overland or by air. And while you’ll find perfectly good -- and sometimes excellent -- ceviche away from the coast, it doesn't have the same brightness, sharpness and vibrancy of a ceviche made from the very freshest ingredients. You'll probably be paying more, too.
The cuisine of the chilly Andean highlands, for example, is rarely associated with ceviche. In the last decade, however, the tourism-fueled city of Cusco has seen a rise in the number of cevicherias, some of which continually earn positive reviews.
These restaurants take in a steady stream of sea fish that arrives each day by air from the coast, some 300 miles to the west.
Some inland locations, of course, have a viable local alternative to the ocean-caught import. Lake Titicaca, for example, provides residents of Puno, Juliaca and other nearby towns with ceviche made from trout and kingfish caught fresh from the lake. Both fish were introduced to Lake Titicaca, the trout from Canada and the kingfish from Argentina. From my experience, however, ceviche made from these two fish rarely compares to the ceviche of the coast.
The ceviche of the Amazon, on the other hand, was a revelation. More specifically, the city of Iquitos made me rethink my firmly held opinion that the coast was by far the best place for fresh ceviche.
In Iquitos, chefs prepare their ceviche with fresh fish caught straight from the Amazon River, and typically purchased from the sprawling Belén Market. The stars of this culinary show are doncella and paiche, two meaty river fish that seem perfectly suited for use in ceviche.
It would be a stretch to say that the ceviche in Iquitos is as good as the ceviche in coastal cities like Lima and Trujillo, but it comes a close second.
Ceviche By Day -- And By Night?
Peruvians traditionally eat ceviche for lunch, either as a starter or as a main course. They rarely eat ceviche after lunch, and many cevicherias open only for lunch and shut completely at night.
The logic behind this, presumably, is that the morning’s catch is no longer fresh by the late afternoon, and even less so after dark. Despite this trend, some restaurants do still serve ceviche for dinner.
But if you are looking for the very freshest ceviche in Peru, pull up a seat at a recommended restaurant or market stall at around midday, ideally somewhere close to the Pacific Ocean or the Amazon River. Do that, and prepare yourself for a true taste of Peru.