Funnily enough I never learned how to make gỏi cá (lit., fish salad) the Vietnamese way, but I know how to make it the South American way. My Dad claims he knows how from watching my Grandfather make it, but then I’ve never seen my Dad actually cook. My cousin also says there’s a mean gỏi cá, Granddad’s style, waiting for me at his farm in Vietnam. One of these days I’ll take him up on his offer. For now, I’ll have fun with a very similar dish from the other side of the world.
Ceviche is eaten throughout South America. National, regional, and local variations exist from Southern Mexico down to the very tip of Chile (probably). We are most familiar with Peruvian iterations of the dish because we first learned of it from an authentic Peruvian, then subsequently took a trip to Peru where we consumed ceviche from lunch counters in Highland markets, cevicherias, and restaurants in Lima.
Marcos Pesado, of the Peruvian metal band Reino Ermitaño, posted on a music message board his ceviche recipe (thread deleted), which we immediately connected to gỏi cá. The basic idea is the same: cured, uncooked fish mixed with chilli and fresh herbs (essential) and other ingredients (variable). The main difference is the curing method – South Americans use acidic citrus juices to denature fish protein and inhibit spoilage; the Vietnamese use rice wine.
Our first iteration of ceviche was very Vietnamese – garnished with basil, cilantro, pineapple, onion and chilli. Just add thính (powdered roasted rice) and you’d have something very similar to gỏi cá.
Our trip to Peru informed us about other nuances in the dish. Seemed like ceviche was always served with something crunchy, something sweet and something starchy. In Cuzco, a more traditional version of the dish came with fried giant corn, sweet potato, and rice, respectively.
In Lima, at a restaurant with a reputation for innovative recipes, ceviche was served with potato chip, fried plaintains, and boiled giant corn.
Subsequently, our ceviche followed those guidelines. In September we made scallop ceviche, sliced crosswise and served with fried seaweed, fried anchovy (both are sweet and crunchy) and lavender roasted purple sweet potato (sweet/starchy).In October, we made skatewing cevichewith popcorn (crunchy/starchy) and curry roasted yellow sweet potato (sweet/starchy).
Mike of Monahan’s Seafood in Ann Arbor deserves a mention. It’s easy to be confident and adventurous whenever ceviche is on the menu if one has access to Monahan’s seafood and Mike’s forthright and knowledgeable assessment of his inventory. The man even has his own scallop ceviche recipe on the store website. Elsewhere, we usually have to hit the Japanese markets to get sashimi grade fish to be sure of getting well-handled fresh seafood.
Finally, in his post Marcos also informed us that the leftover marinade is sometimes mixed with vodka for a drink called leche de tigre (tiger’s milk.) Tasted like a fishy screwdriver.