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Craving Ceviche

This "south of the border" food serves as a deliciously fresh and filling summer snack

A menu at a local fish market displays various types of ceviche available in Panama City, Panama.

photographs by Cassandra Skoufalos

Visiting a foreign country always leads to great curiosity and excitement into other lifestyles and cultures. Travelers anticipate having to sleep in different climates, tour historical landmarks and, of course, try new foods. During my recent trip to Panama City, Panama, I was given the opportunity to sample a very unique and yet refreshingly delightful food, ceviche.

Popular in the coastal regions of Central and South America, ceviche is typically made from fresh raw fish marinated in citrus juices such as lemon or lime and spiced with chili peppers. Dating back to the earliest inhabitants, the Incas were known for preserving their fish with fruit juice, salt and chile peppers. Later on, limes were introduced by the Spanish conquerors to add an additional flavor and preservation to the dish. Prepared and served cold, this fascinating meal has become a popular choice during the warm summer days as either an appetizer or entree.

Upon arriving at the "Mercado de Mariscos" in Panama City, Panama you are instantly hit with an overwhelming smell of fresh fish. This comes as no surprise, as the market sits right along side the water overlooking the historical walls of Casco Viejo or the Old City. After your senses adjust, the scene is absolutely remarkable. People of all ethnicities are running around frantically selling, buying and even catching a multitude of fresh seafood. From octopus, to shrimp to fish, this market is a gold mine for fresh food. I must have stood out as a tourist because I was quickly called over to a stand by a kind, older woman. "¿Quieres probártelo?" she inquired taking a piece of fresh octopus off the grill to try. Coming from a big Greek family, eating octopus was something I had been accustomed to my whole life and I eagerly accepted. The piece, while small, had an overwhelming taste and instantly wet my palette for more. As a food aficidioando, I had been advised and highly encouraged to visit this market and try the local ceviche. As my stomach started to grumble, I thanked the woman and went off in search of a ceviche restauarant.

What I came across instead, was a small and humble shack a short distance from the market and directly on the dock. The bright colored menu instantly caught my eye outlining the various types of ceviche that were available. From conchela (conch) to calamar (squid) to, of course, my personal favorite pulpo (octopus) there was a type to try for the adventurous to the pickiest eater. As I peered into the back kitchen, I noticed three women hard at work chopping up fish and shrimp for the latest customers. By now, a crowd of people had formed and person after person was walking away with cups of heaping portions of seafood and onions, peppers and spices. After careful consideration on which type to sample, I decided on langostino (lobster) and mediterraneo (Mediterranean) which is a mix of many different kinds of seafood. The portions ranged from small to large and priced between $2.00 and $40.00 depending on the kind.

After a morning of exploring Panama City, this was a much needed snack. The flavors of the dish blended together beatifully contrasting the vibrant lemon and lime with the raw and grilled octopus and shrimp and I instantly gobbled up my serving. Ceviche had become my new favorite food and during the remainder of my trip we revisted this spot to grab a revitalizing and appetizing Panamaian meal.

ceviche panama

The final product proved to be as delicious as I anticipated and cost only $2!

After returning to the United States, I quickly learned that many countries throughout Central and South America pride themselves on a distinct kind of ceviche. Peru, for example, typically pairs ceviche with corn on the cob or sweet potatoes. In Chile, ceviche is marinated in grapefruit juices and minced using fresh mint and cilantro. Costa Rican ceviche comes with lettuce, soda crackers and is served with tabasco sauce or ketchup. Costa Rica also specializes in Hawaiian ceviche which is made with shrimp, lobster or crab, lime jucies, soy sauce, and seaweed!

In a nutrition-obsessed and calorie-counting consumed day and age, ceviche is the ultimate meal to try. The fresh and local ingredients make each portion tasty, satsifying and easy to prepare. Feeling inspiried to try your own at making ceviche? Here is a shrimp and scallop recipe from local Cuban restaurant Habana which serves a party of four. Be sure to leave a comment to let us know how your ceviche experience went!

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