Recently there has been some debate about the spelling of ceviche. In Peru, ceviche is generally spelled either cebiche or ceviche. Cebiche with a B is more typical in Lima, though with a V is more common nationally and especially internationally.
There was actually a debate going on after a recent Washington Post article by writer Tim Carman that received backlash for spelling ceviche with an s, as in Seviche. The blog follow up to the story claims that the Post relies on Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition. Peru’s largest newspaper, El Comercio, spells it cebiche. I recently wrote an article about ceviche for the Wall Street Journal. There was some internal debate about whether it should be spelled as seviche or ceviche. I say ceviche. Let me explain.
After further research, I learned today that Seviche, spelled with S and V, was actually declared National Cultural Heritage on March 23, 2004, by Peru’s National Institute of Culture (INC). Additionally, historical texts refer to the dish as seviche, including those by Ricardo Palma and Juan de Arona, founders of the Peruvian Language Academy. If you look at the origins of the dish, of which there are many, they also point to spelling the dish with an S. Some say ceviche was introduced to Peru by the Spanish, who brought escabeche, a dish that consists fish marinated in vinegar, which was introduced to Spain by the Moors (FYI: Moorish cooks never brought the dish to Peru themselves as far too many documents incorrectly state). As escabeche in its original form is a common dish in Peru and throughout South America, I really don’t consider this accurate. It appears that the ingredients brought by the Spanish had more influence than the dish escabeche did.
Another theory, which I see as more likely, is that the word ceviche is the bastardization of a Quechua word, which is currently spelled as siwichi, however, it is worth noting that Quechua was not written language until recently.
I agree with all of this and feel that the spelling of the dish probably should be seviche. There is a problem, though. For me, it’s a fatal blow. No one spells it like that.
As I note in my article, the evolution of ceviche begins with a crude dish of fish marinated in tumbo, a type of passionfruit, or other citrus in coastal Peru in Pre-Colombian times. When the Spanish arrived, they brought onions, peppers, and limes, three essential ingredients to the modern dish. These ingredients all came together with native ones over the next few centuries, eventually falling into the hands of Japanese chefs in Lima such as Dario Matsufuji, who shortened the time the dish soaks in lime, not to mention showed Peruvians how to treat and cut fish. This was the 1970’s and this was the birth of the dish we now know as ceviche in Peru. So should the spelling be the same as it was by Japanese chefs in the 1970s? Does anyone have an idea how they were spelling ceviche at that time? It is very likely that there was never a official or even preferred spelling of the dish during the 1970’s. Ceviche, cebiche, and seviche were all probably used during this time. Somehow, using a C won out. No matter how you try to swing it, no one spells ceviche with an s anymore. Almost.
I have seen only in one neighborhood in one port city in Peru (Callao) that actually spells ceviche consistently with an S. So to spell the dish when not referring to a ceviche made in Callao or a Callao style ceviche, would be misleading, not to mention look odd and inaccurate as the hundreds of comments on the Washington Post article show.
So, to conclude, while I see that the spelling the dish seviche as being valid, I’m going to continue using the most common international version: ceviche. When referring specifically to Peruvian or Limeño ceviche, I might even use a b. You just won’t catch me spelling it with an S.