Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Fall/Winter 2008 issue.

Step into just about any restaurant in Puerto Vallarta or any oceanfront destination in Mexico, for that matter, and chances are you will find this delicious citrus-marinated seafood salad on the menu. Commonly served as an appetizer, ceviche is prepared by combining chunks of raw fish, sliced or chopped onion, chopped tomatoes and cilantro with limejuice. The limejuice gives the mixture a fresh, zesty taste, but more importantly, it “cooks” the fish without heat, making ceviche a healthy treat, low in saturated fat and rich in protein. Marinating time varies from a few minutes to overnight, according to taste and the type of fish used. Ceviche is frequently served in a large bowl or glass, garnished with avocado slices and with tostadas (toasted or deep-fried tortillas) or saltine crackers on the side. And just as you can order the number of tacos of your choice in some taquerías and taco stands, many casual eateries offer ceviche by the tostada, with a serving of ceviche covering each.

While ceviche is easy to prepare at home, its versatility has sparked the imagination of many local and international chefs, who have added their own personal touch to the dish, making it virtually impossible to have the same tasting experience from one restaurant to another. Ask where you can find the best ceviche in town, and chances are you will spark a heated debate among ceviche enthusiasts.

Regional variations abound. In states like Guerrero and Jalisco, ceviche is prepared with finely chopped fish whose consistency resembles ground beef, whereas in Sinaloa, the fish is chopped in bite-size chunks. The choice of fish also varies and often includes shrimp and octopus.

So popular is ceviche throughout Mexico, it’s easy to claim it as “ours.” However, ceviche variations can be found throughout Latin America, particularly in Peru, where its origin can be traced to pre-Columbian times and it is officially considered part of this country’s cultural heritage. Peruvian historian Javier Pulgar Vidal maintains that the term derives from the word “siwichi,” which in quechua, a language used throughout the Andes long before the Incas, means “fresh fish.”

In Puerto Vallarta, your quest for the ultimate ceviche will have you making stops at many of the fine restaurants listed in our restaurant directory. And if you follow popular advice, it also will steer you toward many other, less well-known eateries outside Puerto Vallarta proper, particularly in surrounding fishing villages like Bucerías and La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. Regardless, you can’t go wrong with this versatile dish, a longtime favorite among Puerto Vallarta visitors.

Basic Ceviche Recipe (Six servings)

Rinse fish in cold water and place in a large bowl. Add enough limejuice to cover and marinate overnight. Drain fish and discard marinade. Combine with the rest of the ingredients, adding additional limejuice, fresh cilantro, salt and pepper to taste. Serve with saltine crackers or tostadas.

Photo: "Ceviche Colima," courtesy of El Arrayán