According to the Peruvian historian Javier Pulgar Vidal, cebiche comes from viche – tender –, i.e. fresh and tender fish in the Chibcha language. Another theory of his, is that the words siwichi and sikbaǧ – Arabic like sibich – are neologisms created during the Spanish conquest of the Inca empire.
Carlos Raffo Dasso, a gastronomy specialist, tells a completely different and humorous story about English sailors landing in Peru, their mouths ravaged by ulcers. When they ate the traditional moche dish, combined with Moorish cuisine – the Spaniards’ servants touch –, they screamed in agony. It was not the ecstatic cry aficionados are known to shout when savouring this speciality. It was a cry of intense pain, caused by cankered mouths colliding with lime juice and chilies. They hollered “son of a bitch”. The Indians, who heard something like sonofabitch or ceviche, enthusiastically adopted it to rename their ancestral concoction.
Hypotheses, as to the origin of the word, are as many and as varied as the different recipes. But everybody agrees that it can raise the dead and that no other aphrodisiac comes anyway near it.
To make a decent ceviche, you need ULTRA fresh fish or seafood. If you can’t get any, forget it. In Peru, reputable cevicherias close in the afternoon, when they are out of fresh fish.
Ingredients must be cut in pieces all roughly the same size and marinated in leche de tigre, a mixture of lime juice, crushed garlic, red hot peppers, ginger, coriander and a pinch of celery seeds. After being « cooked » in lime juice, ceviche is served on a green salad leaf with sweet potatoes and toasted corn. There are similar recipes in Hawaii, the West Indies and along the Pacific coastline.