I love seafood. That’s not news, since I come from the coast of Peru, where we have heaps of top quality seafood. In Lima, most supermarkets sell fresh seafood and I had a good supermarket at a short walking distance from home that was opened until midnight. Here, things are a bit more complicated. Fresh seafood is not always easy to get and not always really fresh. Lucky me, I mentioned going to the fish market one day to a friend and she told me about a place in Marrickville where she buys her seafood, according to her, fresher than in the fish market shops.
I reserve public holidays and non-busy weekends for preparing “special” dishes, for example those that require ingredients bought on the day, or those that have to be served immediately. So Australia Day was the perfect excuse to satisfy my craving of cebiche. I know it wasn’t a “politically correct” meal for that day but that’s what I felt like eating.
Faros Bros is located in an industrial part of Marrickville, very close to the Sydenham train station. If you look it from the outside you’d think there’s nothing going on there. But past the plastic blind-type curtains a wide range of fresh seafood at good prices makes you want to eat it all in the spot with a squeeze of lemon juice and a cold beer.
I got a fillet each of red snapper, barramundi and salmon, four medium octopus and half a kilo of fish roe (yes, I like it battered and fried). The snapper and one of the octopus were for the cebiche, the rest for future meals.
There are dozens (or hundreds, perhaps) of ways of preparing cebiche. What is right or wrong depends on what you like, but what is authentic is usually easy to spot because it’s simple. Think about tacos, for example. If you eat a taco that’s so full of ingredients that you can barely have a bite without it falling apart, and that gives you a bad indigestion right after, then probably it’s not very authentic. If you order a taco in Mexico, you’ll get a tortilla with carnitas (pork), green onions and chilli. Simple and delicious. The same happens with cebiche. A traditional one has nothing more than fish, onion, lime juice, chilli and salt. Simple and delicious, too.
Cebiche de pescado (fish only) and cebiche mixto (mixed seafood) are the most common versions offered. My current favourites are octopus + fish, octopus + prawns + fish, and fish + conchas negras (black scallops). Combinations are endless. There’s even chicken cebiche for non-fish eaters and mushroom cebiche for vegetarians. In the North of Peru there’s a white bean cebiche (the bean is called sarandaja) that is served as a side.
In the quest for umami, some people season cebiche with MSG. Some use celery water. Some use palabritas (a small shellfish) stock. I don’t use any of those.
Regarding sides, the typical ones are corn and sweet potato. For the last 10 – 15 years the old-fashioned boiled sweet potatoes have been replaced by glazed sweet potatoes (shaped like a rugby ball, boiled, and then glazed with butter, sugar, and sometimes orange juice). For me, that’s overkill. Sweet potatoes are sometimes replaced by yuca (cassava) or potatoes. Finally, there are people who eat their cebiche with white rice. Outrageous.
If you want a green touch you can add some chopped coriander leaves. But I prefer the good old yuyo (seaweed) that complimented every cebiche when I was a kid and is slowly making a comeback. Of course there’s no yuyo in Sydney but I suspect wakame would be a fine substitute.
When you go to a cebichería in Peru, instead of a basket of bread you get a bowl of canchita (roasted and salted corn kernels), sometimes served with chifles (salted banana chips). Being this an special occasion, I opened the (very expensive) bag of canchita I bought in Tierras Latinas.
The best pairing for cebiche is a crisp lager or pilsner, or a good sauvignon blanc. But because I like malt beers and ales better, whenever I eat cebiche in Peru I drink a dark malt beer (Cusqueña negra), and here any of my favourite Aussie ales (this time a Monteith’s Summer Ale).
Cebiche de pulpo y pescado (fish and octopus cebiche)
Serves 2 as a main course
500 grams red snapper fillet (or similar white-flesh fish)
1 medium octopus
1 small Spanish onion
1 sweet corn
1 sweet potato
1/2 celery stalk
1 clove garlic, peeled
salt, white pepper
red chilli to taste (optional)
Thinly slice the onion and soak in water. Finely chop chilli.
Boil corn and steam or oven-roast sweet potato.
Boil octopus with celery and garlic until tender, approximately 20 minutes. Refrigerate when ready.
Let corn and sweet potato cool down, then cut the corn kernels from the cob, peel and cut sweet potato in pieces.
Once the corn, sweet potato and octopus have cooled down, cut octopus in 1-inch pieces and place in a bowl. Cube the fish and add to octopus. Add the drained onions and chilli. Season with salt and white pepper.
Squeeze lime juice on top of the mix. Toss and taste, adjust seasoning if needed.
Serve a portion of cebiche with corn and sweet potato on the side.
Enjoy with a chilled beer and canchita if you like it (and can find it!).
34 Buckley St
Marrickville NSW 2204
(02) 519 3785
Monday to Friday 7am – 6pm
Saturday 7am – 5pm
Sunday 8am – 5pm
Public Holidays 9am – 4pm