It’s as if the mere act of uttering the word “ceviche” transports guests to a beach as soon as it stuck out their tongue. And that’s probably because, in their minds, the concept is classified under “seaside”.
Usually prepared with cubed or grated fish or seafood that are cooked by letting them marinate in citrus fruits and spices – which vary by region – ceviche is as ubiquitous as it is diverse. Different fruits, vegetables and condiments are added depending on location and season.
Appearing on Chicago menus as often as, in addition to or instead of ceviche, the equally delicious aguachile often begs the question, how is it different? Born in northwestern Mexico, aguachile (chili water) is also made by cooking raw seafood (usually butterfly shrimp or conch) in a spicy, sour marinade, but for a shorter time. Cucumbers, tomatoes and onions are also usually added.
Much like people’s relationship with taquerías in Mexico City, those lucky enough to live near the ocean will likely have a favorite seafood vendor. Often sold in food carts (called carretas) well stocked with corn tostadas and savory crackers. The unique salsas also help to differentiate the selections.
Spelled ceviche, cebiche, sebiche or seviche, the origin of the plaque cannot be isolated to one place or to people. It is a mixture of pre-Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Asian cultures, as well as their contributions in terms of ingredients and techniques. And while it might not be on every street corner, in Chicago, an exciting place of culinary convergence, creativity and discovery, ceviche and aguachile are becoming easier to find.
In addition to the Mexican or Mexican-inspired executions of the two dishes, Chicagans can enjoy a ceviche in South American variations. Peruvian ceviche deserves a separate list, as it was named the country’s national dish in 2008.
And while the ceviche and aguachile are fundamentally minimalist, cooks agree that their preparation is a process that requires both skill and a thorough understanding of the ingredients.
To note: The restaurants on this map are listed geographically.