Though the origin of ceviche is disputed, it's likely that the dish comes from the South American country of Peru. This dish, which is made by curing raw seafood or fish in citrus juices, has been popular in South America for years, with nearly every country offering its own take.
And no matter how you spell it -- cebiche, ceviche, or seviche -- it's an easily enjoyable dish. Often flavored with ají chili peppers, as well as onions, salt, and other spices, ceviche makes a light meal that still offers plenty in the flavor department. Many restaurants (Latin American or not) have begun serving ceviche of all varieties on their menus, but to keep things fair, we headed to two Peruvian joints, pitting Phoenix's El Chullo against Chandler's Tumi Fine Peruvian Cuisine in a battle of the ceviche de pescado.
In This Corner: El Chullo
The Setup: This cozy Central Phoenix restaurant opened late last year on Seventh Street, just north of The Main Ingredient. The family-owned restaurant serves an easy-to-navigate menu of Peruvian dishes (and if you're not sure what something means, just ask the friendly staff). If you're looking for a truly educational experience, grab one of the three seats at the bar and chat it up with your server, who should be more than happy to drop knowledge about the food and culture or Peru.
The Good: When you order your ceviche de pescado, your server will probably ask, "How spicy do you want it?" We ordered ours "regularly spicy" and were happy we did. Between the kick from the peppers and the tang from the citrus juices, our ceviche packed just about as much flavor as we could handle. The accompanying slices of sweet potato are just the counterbalance you'll want. And definitely wash it all down with a glass of purple chicha morada, or cinnamon spiked corn juice.
The Bad: El Chullo's ceviche de pescado packed a sharp punch thanks to an abundance of citrus. Though we finished every piece, we would have appreciated more balance between spice and sour. The touch of celery was an unexpected nice addition, but the flavor started to overpower the delicate white fish.
In The Other Corner: Tumi
The Setup: This no-frills restaurant is tucked into a Chandler strip mall marked only by a small blue sign that says "Tumi." Inside you'll find a handful of tables laid out with colorful tablecloths and purple placemats. With the chatter of Spanish-language TV in the background and a glass of radioactive-yellow Inca Kola -- a Peruvian soft drink similar to cream soda -- in hand, you'll be ready to go.
The Good: Tumi's ceviche is a mound of tilapia dressed in lime, chiles, and spices accompanied by a hunk of sweet potato and Peruvian corn served on the cob. Less tart but still spicy, these strips of tender fish truly tasted as though they had been plucked out of the sea earlier that day. The citrus didn't overpower the delicate fish and it left enough room for the spice to come forward.
The Bad: We have no complaints about this dish other than that we may have appreciated a tad more heat.
The Winner: Tumi.
We thought El Chullo knocked it out of the park with its dish -- until we tasted Tumi's version. The differences between the two are subtle, to be sure, and if El Chullo reined in the tang from the citrus, we don't know if it'd be possible to choose between the two.