Ceviche is one of the most popular dishes in all of Latin America. In its most basic form, is raw seafood and lime juice and aided by the magical denaturation powers of citric acid on proteins. A sea creature that was once alive and kicking, is converted into an edible form simply through a few minutes of exposure to citric acid. Although modern historians commonly agree that ceviche was originated in Peru possibly by the indigenous civilizations, this whole debate gets Latin American countries a bit riled up. Depending on where the ceviche is from, spellings include cebiche or seviche. The Spanish as if they really needed more evidence of their impact on the Americas, claim that limes and lemons were brought over by the Moors, which they had taken along with them during war. Prior to their “contribution” to the Americas, the indigenous civilizations were using other types of acidic fruit – not limes or lemons. The word cebiche is also very similar to the Spanish word escabeche, which means pickling. A funny and unbelievable theory for the derivation of the word ceviche comes from a Peruvian scholar who says that the English seamen that arrived on the Peruvian coast were ridden with cankered mouths and scurvy-like diseases. They saw the indigenous eating “raw fish cooked with fruit juices” and tried it themselves. Upon eating the delicious ceviche, they reacted with a loud “son of a bitch”, due to the hot peppers and ample usage of citric juices that caused their diseased mouth sores to burn. Though unintelligible to the Indians, they remembered the sound uttered by the English. “Would you like a seviche (son of a bitch)?”, they began to ask. I don’t buy it though. Some even say this is a South Pacific/Polynesian-influenced dish (i.e. Hawaii’s poké).
Each of the Latin American countries have claimed their own ceviche by adding their own touches with herbs, chiles and various types of seafood proteins. In Peru, you’re likely to eat a lime-based ceviche with aji pepper, served with cold sweet potatoes and corn. In Mexico, ceviche is served with tomatoes, cilantro, onions and sometimes with ketchup/hot sauce over crunchy tostadas. In Colombia, the ceviche we ate was very similar to Peruvian-style but with the addition of light cream and honey for a sweet, delectable version. A former Ecuadorian coworker explains to me that tomatoes are used heavily in Ecuador with their ceviches and served with crispy plantain chips. In the Caribbean islands, you’re likely to have a version of ceviche not with fish nor shrimp, but with conch (la concha) or clams. To me it’s what makes ceviche an even more interesting and appetizing dish – that a country can call it its own. The truth is, regardless of the origin, ceviche is going to be good and I find it quite difficult to get bored with such a refreshing dish.
After eating Mexican, Peruvian, Panamanian (by the end of this week!) and Colombian-style ceviches, I thought I had a general understanding of the various types of ceviche that exist. But I would be further educated and enlightened upon stepping into La Cevicheria in Mid-City. But don’t mistaken the turquoise-colored building for any ordinary Latino seafood restaurants. Through the black security door, it’s a Guatemalan seafood paradise.
I’ve been here four times already and besides the food, what brings me back is the service and treatment you get from the owners, Julio and Carolina Orellana of Guatemala City, Guatemala. Carolina is the head chef, with her funny, energetic husband running the front of the house. Get used to Julio because he’s a true character, and will continue checking up on you to make sure everything you’re eating is delicious and toss out a few here-and-there jokes. I’ve seen him spend a good 5-7 minutes with newcomers, finding out what exactly they were in the mood for. Spotting a few dishes that had some Mexican (Veracruz, Campeche) and Caribbean influence, I asked the Orellanas if everything on the menu was considered “Guatemalan”. They replied that they consider their restaurant more of an international restaurant, celebrating their favorite Latin American foods from. When I asked Julio about his ethnicity initially, he said, “I am 100% Guatemalan, but I look like a white guy. I am a cup of Guatemalan coffee with way too much milk and cream.” That yellow sauce you see is mustard mixed with a lot of habanero chiles and attitude – I call it “yellow Sriracha” (Sriracha amarilla). Whether or not it is a common Guatemalan condiment, I love it on everything I eat here.
The dish you’ll inevitably see on every table is the ceviche. There will be a few diners eating a whole fried fish, some eating tacos and burritos. But there’s always a goblet of goodness known as ceviche. Although La Cevicheria offersAnd what makes Guatemalan ceviche different than its Latin American counterparts is the use of mint and Worcestershire Sauce (spanish: salsa Inglesa, English sauce). Pictured above is the chapin, which is shrimp, octopus and imitation crab. Though to this day, I’m puzzled by the ample usage of imitation crab in Latino cuisine when they have access to the WHOLE SEA, this is a beautiful blend of seafood, mint, avocado and Worcestershire. Served on crunchy tostadas that Julio buys specifically from a vendor in East Los Angeles, you’ll be asking for more edible plates to scoop up the rest of your goblet. Try crumbling the Saltine crackers in your ceviche too.
“Bloody Clam” ceviche.
Despite the name and look of it, this is what I highly recommend over the chapin. When the bloody clams (concha negra/pata de mula, which means “mule’s foot”) are chopped, the heavy amount of dark-colored hemoglobin is released, giving it its appearance. According to this great posting on La Cevicheria, Chef Orellana uses a type of blood cockle called anadara granosa. Mixed with the lime juice, Worcestershire, mint and tomatoes, this is one concoction you’d likely see Marilyn Manson walking around cemeteries with. But it’s good… The earthiness of the clams really balances out the acids. But the best part of this dish is the leche de tigre (tiger’s milk) – the remaining liquid from the clams, lime juice and Worcestershire. It is strong enough to revive the hungover, awaken the dead and provide hours of fun with your significant other.
Fish Taco and Caldo de Camaron (Shrimp Soup).
If there’s a fish taco on the menu, I’m going to get it. How can one resist a piece of nicely fried Pollack fish wrapped with cabbage and a tortilla. But you can’t even begin eating this until you’ve added the “yellow Sriracha”, which takes this your standard fish taco to another level, in my opinion. I have approached the Orellanas about the possibility of bottling and selling the Sriracha amarilla. Hopefully Huy Fong isn’t reading this right now. Another thing I love to eat is caldo de camaron. I’ve eaten delicious versions in Ensenada, Tulum and Mexico City, but I can’t figure out why a lot of places in Los Angeles overcook the shrimp. But Chef Carolina puts some major care and this – I really enjoyed this here.
Mariscada Caribeña (Caribbean-style Seafood Stew with Rice)
Just when I thought I had eaten the best of what La Cevicheria had to offer, Julio insists that I try this out. As I was talking to him about this, my eyes focused on the wall with Jonathan Gold’s review of this restaurant, with a large photo of the mariscada caribeña. By now, my friend and I were about to tap out but I’m glad we didn’t. The seafood stew reminds me of a soupier version of seafood risotto. The shrimp, mussels and calimari are cooked beautifully, and the sauce is simply amazing. If you want a comforting dish that will make you miss your mother, order this.
Aguachiles (Mexican Shrimp in Chile & Cucumber Sauce)
Like I said, it’s a never-ending parade of food here at La Cevicheria. This dish comes with a dozen shrimp but Julio was nice enough to sell 1/2 a dozen to us. Aguachiles is a Sinaoloan-Nayarit dish that consists of butterflied shrimp cooked in lime juice for a short time and drenched in a bright, green sauce made of chiles, cucumbers and cilantro. I was first introduced to this dish by Chef Sergio Eduardo Penuelas of Mariscos Chente and since then, look for it every time I’m eating at a mariscos restaurant. At first, you’ll see a mound of green salsa and red onions, but a closer look, reveals the shrimp completely buried in the blended sauce. This dish isn’t for everyone especially if you’re not in to the texture of raw shrimp. But this dish is beautiful, very naked and sexy. Love Chef Carolina’s version a little bit more than Marisco Chente’s.
3809 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Closed mondays, cash only.