Whether you call it ceviche, tiradito, crudo, or carpaccio—raw or marinated seafood is fresh, fun, flavorful and good for you. It is also very popular in restaurants in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and we’re loving it!
It appears winter has passed and it’s warming up here in San Miguel. With this change in weather we start to crave food that is refreshing and light. Ceviche is one of our favorite ways to eat on warm, sunny days when cooked dishes just seem too heavy.
The beautiful thing about ceviche, tiradito, or crudo is that they can be incredibly simple or dressed up into creative, complex dishes. The lines between these different types of raw dishes can be very blurry. What they all have in common is impeccably fresh fish or seafood that never touches heat. Most are seasoned with some sort of citrus acid, salt, and spice or maybe some olive oil, fresh herbs, or chili pepper.
It can help to know a little about the different styles so you have some idea of what is going to show up on your plate. So what is the difference?
It can be spelled ceviche, seviche, cebiche, or sebiche, depending on the region. Either way, fresh raw seafood is marinated in acid, usually citrus like lime or lemon. The acid denatures the proteins in the meat, changing the appearance and texture to an opaque, firm consistency similar to seafood cooked with heat. Depending on the style of ceviche, the seafood can be marinated anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours or even overnight.
The true origin of ceviche is debated. Peru has laid claim by making it a national dish, with the Peruvian National Institute of Culture declaring June 28 to be National Ceviche Day. There is archeological evidence that they were eating a dish similar to ceviche in Peru nearly two thousand years ago. However, citrus fruits didn’t exist in the Americas until they were brought from Europe by Spanish explorers. And so, some historians believe that Moorish women from Granada brought the dish to Peru from Spain.
Regardless of where it began, ceviche is popular throughout Latin America, from Mexico through Central America, South America and the Caribbean Islands. Most Latin American countries have their own unique versions.
Classic Peruvian ceviche is typically made with a white fish, like sea bass, cut into chunks and marinated in citrus juice and seasoned with salt, onions, and chili peppers. The ceviche is frequently served alongside sweet potato and corn.
The juice that accumulates at the bottom of the bowl is called the Leche de Tigre (tiger’s milk). It holds all of the flavors of the ceviche, with the juices drawn from the fish by the acidic citrus blending with the seasonings. Years ago, a Peruvian friend shared his recipe for ceviche with us and taught us the tradition of drinking the Leche de Tigre at the end of the meal. Some restaurants may serve a small glass of this juice along with the ceviche.
Peruvian ceviche might also include Aji Amarillo, a yellow-orange pepper that is native to South America and used in many Peruvian dishes. It gives the ceviche a distinctive yellow hue and has a unique, bright fruity flavor with a medium-level heat that warms your mouth without lighting it on fire.
Tiradito is a style of Peruvian ceviche in which the fish is sliced into thin strips, like Japanese sashimi. The fish spends very little time in the citrus marinade, usually just a few minutes. It is not uncommon to find dishes with Japanese influence in Peruvian restaurants. This cuisine is called Nikkei, named for Japanese emigrants to Peru in the late 19th century. A blend of the two cultures, Nikkei cuisine uses Japanese techniques to prepare Peruvian ingredients.
Ceviche is a traditional part of Mexican cuisine, especially along the coastal regions. In Mexico, ceviche is made from a variety of fish and seafood, including octopus, squid, shrimp, scallop, and fish. The lime citrus marinade might also include tomato juice or chopped tomato, onion, chili peppers, cilantro, and avocado. It can be served on a tostada or as filling for tacos. Ceviche cocktails served in big goblets are also very popular.
Aguachile is a regional style of ceviche from Sinaloa, on the north-west coast of Mexico. Aguachile literally means “chili water” and refers to the sauce made by pulverizing chili peppers in water with a mortar and pestle or blender. It can be made using green chilis (aguachile verde) or red chilis (aguachile rojo). These fiery hot dishes typically also include lime, cucumber, onion, and avocado.
The classic version uses shrimp, which starts out raw and is served immediately after dressing with the lime and chili sauce; so the shrimp is still pretty much raw when it arrives to your table. (If you can’t stomach the idea of raw shrimp, then you might want to avoid the aguachile and go with a standard Mexican ceviche in which the shrimp is usually precooked.)
Carpaccio (or is it Crudo?)
The distinction between these two dishes causes me a lot of confusion. The word “crudo” simply means “raw” in both Spanish and Italian. In Italian cuisine, a crudo typically refers to raw fish, sliced and drizzled with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. Sound familiar? The acid could also be vinegar or other citrus. There might be some herbs or capers on top, or really anything they want.
Dishes that we would consider crudos can be found all over San Miguel. However, they are usually called carpaccios. We tend to think of raw beef when we think of carpaccio. The original carpaccio was invented at the famous Harry’s Bar in Venice in 1950 using thinly sliced raw beef.
These days the term carpaccio is used loosely to refer to anything sliced thin, and therein lies its distinguishing feature. A carpaccio should be shaved or pounded very thin, whereas crudo can be sliced or cut to any thickness. Therefore, I guess you could say that if a carpaccio is raw, it is also a crudo. If it is cooked, like with thinly sliced octopus, for example, then it is just a carpaccio.
Like I said, the lines are blurry. No matter what you call them, these fresh raw seafood dishes are delicious. Here are a few places where you can find them in San Miguel de Allende restaurants. As always, if I’ve missed your favorites please let me know in the comments. Recommendations are always welcomed!
Chef Alexandra Gutt, originally from Lima, Peru, opened La Parada in San Miguel along with her husband in 2012. La Parada is a great place to sample the various styles of Peruvian ceviches. If you get there before 5:00pm, their ceviches are available in mini portions so you can try multiple preparations, ideally while sipping on one of their delicious pisco sour cocktails.
The Ceviche Patria is a classic Peruvian ceviche, with chunks of sea bass marinated in lime juice and seasoned with onions, chili peppers, and salt. In the Tiradito Buena Vida, sea bass is sliced into thin strips and aji amarillo is blended into the leche de tigre, giving it that beautiful yellow color and fruity spice. Both are served with sweet potato and corn kernels in traditional Peruvian style.
The Japanese influence of Nikkei can be seen in the Ceviche Contracorriente. Incredibly soft cubes of fresh raw salmon are tossed with cucumber, nori seaweed, slivered snow peas, sesame oil and a Japanese spice blend called Sichimi Togarashi.
Recreo 94, Centro
Mi Bistro 300
At Mi Bistro 300 you can dine on a selection of ceviches, seafood cocktails, and tiraditos on one of the most charming patios in San Miguel. Their Huachinango (red snapper) tiradito is an elegant dish of thin slices of raw fish dressed with citrus juice, limes and a mild chili pepper sauce. The red snapper was super fresh, like sashimi, with barely any time to marinate, so that the acid didn’t overwhelm the delicate fish.
Mi Bistro 300
Quebrada 18D, Zona Centro
Mario’s Mariscos estilo Mazatlan
At Mario’s Mariscos estilo Mazatlan, owner Mario Cabrales sources his fresh fish and seafood from his hometown of Mazatlan in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. His menu includes ceviches, cocktails, and aguachiles made with a variety of fish and seafood. Mario does a nice version of aguachile, with a choice of shrimp, tuna, octopus, or scallop (callo de acha). The dish uses a classic combination of lime, green chili, red onion and cucumber. The flavors are bright and fresh; perfect with the sweet firm meat of the big raw sea scallops in the Aguachile de Callo de Acha.
Marios Mariscos estilo Mazatlan
Salida a Celaya #83-A
El Manantial is a historic Mexican cantina that has been open since 1920. We like to grab a seat at the bar, order some ginger margaritas, and work our way through the selection of Mexican Pacific coast seafood. They have Peruvian ceviche, carpaccios and tostadas with octopus and a variety of fish, and aguachiles of shrimp or scallop. This is the only place we’ve seen with both green and red aguachile. In the red version of the aquachile de camarón, velvety raw shrimp were swimming in a spicy rojo sauce of red chili, lime, red onion, and avocado.
The Tostada of callo de almeja was loaded with sweet, raw bay scallops, seasoned with an Asian flare, red onion and avocado.
Calle Barranca #78
La Sirena Gorda
La Sirena Gorda is known for both its seafood and its many colorful paintings of fat mermaids. The menu is full of fresh raw seafood dishes, like tartars, aguachiles, ceviches; most of which you can get on a tostada. There are also carpaccios and seafood cocktails.
A common version of seafood cocktail called Vuelve a la Vida (back to life), is a mix of seafood in a tangy tomatoey sauce. According to wikipedia (yes, it has a wiki page), the recipe originated in Venezuela and was named for the supposed aphrodisiac properties of the seafood. This cocktail is also sometimes called “rompe colchon” which means mattress breaker. Here in Mexico, the name takes on a different meaning as a common cure for hangovers.
At La Sirena Gorda, the Vuelve a la Vida included bites of shrimp, fish, scallop, and octopus. They even piled a scoop of ceviche on top. A great option if you just can’t decide what you want! The seafood cocktails are served with the customary tostadas and saltine crackers.
La Sirena Gorda
Calle del Dr Ignacio Hernandez Macias 85, Centro
We stumbled upon this little seafood restaurant tucked into Plaza Alondiga across from La Comer. EmbarKdero is affiliated with La Sirena Gorda, so you will see some similarities in the menu. There are ceviches and aguachiles, ceviche tostadas, seafood cocktails, and carpaccios.
The marlin carpaccio features thinly sliced raw marlin, drizzled with olive oil and lime, with capers and red onion scattered on top. Delicious and much more sophisticated than we were expecting.
51, Celaya-Dolores Hidalgo 445, La Lejona