The Rise of the Japanese Ceviche

Ceviche: Origins and the Japanese Influence

Ceviche is your spicy, raw fish salad that has salt, garlic, chopped onions, and hot Peruvian peppers like aji or amarillo, mixed and marinated in lime. The lime denatures the fish protein, giving it a slightly cooked texture. In other words, the fish is chemically cooked by citric acids making it tender, hence it is not raw fish anymore. Many people think that ceviche is native to Mexico because the dish has been part of traditional Mexican cuisine for centuries, especially of the people living near the coast. But it is not so.

Peru is the birthplace of ceviche, dating back to when Spaniards first imported citrus to the new world. The initial versions were thought to have been brought to Peru by Moorish women from Granada together with the influx of Spaniards in colonial times.

Present day ceviche is the national dish of Peru, so popular that it has its own national holiday. There are many restaurants in the country solely dedicated to ceviche, they’re called cevicherias, especially in Lima, somewhere like 20,000. While there are generally just 5 ingredients in ceviche – fish, salt, onion lime and chili – there are many variations. In Peru there’s ceviche with a touch of milk, passion fruit, orange juice, celery, among others. It is garnished with lettuce leaves, corn kernels and sweet potato.

The traditional ceviche used to be marinated for 12 hours, and then the Japanese came. The Nikkeis people, of Japanese ancestry, first emigrated to South America in 1899 to work in the cotton and sugarcane fields. Japanese ingredients and way of cooking were not at first understood by Peruvians, but slowly soy sauce and ginger became part of Peruvian cuisine.

Equal lovers of fish, the Japanese eventually began opening cevicherias. The merging of Peruvian and Japanese techniques became known as the Nikkei cuisine. The Japanese influence enabled a shorter marinating time for the famous ceviche.

In the 1970s, when Toyota and Mitsubishi started exporting to Peru, a classically trained Japanese sushi chef, Nobu Matsuhisa, came to Lima, age 24, to open a sushi restaurant. Limited by the range of ingredients available, he adapted and improvised using Peruvian ingredients. This is now known as the Nobu style, eventually turning into a global restaurant empire. Meanwhile, the traditional ceviche has spread around the world, adapting to the country and culture where you find it.

Peruvian and Japanese Fusion in Issaquah

Ceviche is a great alternative to sushi – especially if you are not a fan of raw fish. Experience our Japanese ceviche at Aji Sushi here in Issaquah and recall how much has Japanese influence have on Peru’s national dish.