a spoonful of ocean

ceviche bites

 jump to the recipe

ecuadorian ceviche appetizer

The food I grew up on was anything but exotic. When people here ask me “So what is typical Canadian food?” I hesitate. “Um… we use a lot of potatoes?” Which I know is a lame response, but if I describe the food Canadians eat, I know the answers I’ll get. “But that’s Italian!” “That’s French, isn’t it?” “I thought that was a Spanish dish.” “Wait, that’s not German?” Fact is, growing up I never once attended a dinner or function where the meal was deemed “Canadian”. We just called it food.

I thought it was like that everywhere. But I learned later that cultures who have for centuries been replicating what their parents did before them are very much aware that their food is theirs. At a lunch in France, the hostess takes her seat next to me after serving the first course. She leans in and assures me (and perhaps herself) matter-of-factly, “This meal is very French.” But of course. Here in Ecuador I am urged excitedly, “You have to try this, it is a special dish from Ecuador.”

ecuador food shrimp ceviche party appetizer

Being that Canadians spring from so many other cultures, I never had food offered to me with the tagline This is Canadian, rather “This is so good.” So much of our food can be traced further back than we realize. And really it’s a wonderful thing to have so many different cuisines to try and even incorporate into our more traditional fare. In order to define what Canadian food is to me, I go by the food my mother cooked.

As I alluded to here, my mother’s cooking came down to cost over ingredient. It had to. But I remember rare occasions when her eyes would sparkle and she would seem in her own world as she whisked around the kitchen getting a meal together. I remember her savoring every bite of it, seemingly oblivious to any commentary around the dinner table. On these so rare of occasions, she was eating seafood.

shrimp party appetizers

Born and raised in Prince Edward Island, it comes as no surprise that seafood would be her idea of edible bliss. She always longed for the ocean. When I was little, I looked forward to the heaviest rainstorms, because something special would happen. My mother would open all the windows in her bedroom and we would crawl on the bed and close our eyes. “If you just listen,” she would tell me “it sounds like the sea.”

There is something so special about the ocean and the food we find in it. I always felt my mother had a deep, personal connection to it. And even if I was too little to understand why, I was sure happy to be invited.

canadian east coast ocean

Perhaps on that reflection it should also come as no surprise that I too am crazy about seafood. The fresher the better.

So when we were on the coast of Ecuador recently, we didn’t book a nice hotel, we didn’t plan massages or a shopping spree. We had one budget. A ceviche budget.

ceviche stands line the beach of atacames, ecuador

fresh sea food is yours for the choosing at the ceviche stands in atacames, ecuador

beach side ceviche in tonsupa ecuador

shrimp ceviche on the beach in ecuador

shrimp sizes ceviche

And let me tell you, we ate a lot of ceviche.

ceviche mixto

ceviche de camarón en tonsupa ecuador

ceviche de calamar en tonsupa ecuador

más ceviche (o cebiche) de camarón en tonsupa ecuador

ceviche garnish of popcorn and plantain chips

clam and shrimp ceviche (or cebiche) in atacames, ecuador

ceviche de ostión y camarón en atacames ecuador

ostión enorme! huge oyster! atacames ecuador

It’s 5 bucks, it’s fresh, it’s a bowlful of ocean.

So why not a spoonful of ocean?

With one bite, you can feel like you are on a beach in South America. (It helps if you close your eyes.)

south american specialties shrimp ceviche

ceviche bites recipe

makes 24 bites

24 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 large tomatoes, peeled and finely shopped
1 small tomato, grated and leftover skin discarded
2 tbsp finely chopped leeks
1 tbsp finely chopped white onion
3/4 cups cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp ketchup
1 tsp horseradish
1/2 tsp chili flakes
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
juice of 4 small limes
salt (seasoned to taste)
popcorn, for garnish

whole shrimp with head

Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Drop the shrimp in and cook for 1-2 minutes, not more. They will turn pink and curl up slightly, but don’t let them get rubbery! Once cooked, take out of the water and place in a smaller bowl. Add some of the salted water (a few spoonfuls.) Place the bowl of shrimp in a larger bowl with ice and cold water, to cool the shrimp and extra salted water down. Set aside.

In a separate large bowl, combine tomatoes, leeks, onion, cilantro, tomato paste, ketchup, horseradish, chili flakes, garlic powder, oil, and the extra salted water from the shrimp. Add the lime juice. Keep tasting after each lime to make sure you want to add another. The level of acidity is a matter of taste; I like a lot of lime juice but you may not feel the same. Season with salt and again, keep tasting before adding more. You can always add more seasoning, but once it’s in, you can’t take it out! Combine everything thoroughly.

In Asian-style serving spoons, (something like this is ideal for a party) place a spoonful of the tomato mixture at the base. Place one shrimp on top per spoon, and top with popcorn.

ceviche with popcorn, ecuador style

This is a great do-ahead appetizer. You can prep everything the day before and refrigerate the shrimp and the mixture separately. Simply assemble the next day before guests arrive.

shrimp ceviche ecuador appetizer

Our favorite ceviche is with shrimp, but the great thing about this recipe is that you can switch out the shrimp for your favorite bite-sized seafood choice! You can even have a variety of seafood options to really make things fun.

ceviche de camarón en ecuador

I am so happy I had the chance to eat as much from the sea, by the sea as I could. Especially something so South American. But more than that, something SO good.

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31 Responses to a spoonful of ocean

  1. Crystal says:

    Canadian food (in my part of Canada) is tourtière, butter tarts, steamed lamb’s quarters and fiddle heads, ramps, puffballs sautéed in butter, chokecherry jelly. I did eat a lot of roast chicken, green beans, squash and corn in my childhood – and porridge every morning. Ocean experience was limited to fish sticks and tuna from a can except for one magical family trip to Fredericton – Freddy’s Fried Clams. I dream about them…

    • kale says:

      haha aww! that’s exactly what i mean, the great thing about Canadian food culture is that we have a bit of everything and each part of the country has different staples. seafood is certainly not what i grew up eating all the time. (too expensive!) but i know that my mother’s part of Canada boasts great seafood and it was a real treat anytime we had it. for sure i ate a boatload of fiddleheads (yum!) and i could really go for some fried clams now that you mention it…

  2. Donna Picard says:

    This brought me to tears…..thank-you. I am really looking forward to trying this recipe really soon but not soon enough!

  3. I loved this blog post. I can totally relate as a person born and raised in Seattle. I can’t name any “dish” that reflects Seattle specifically. I love that we are so diverse in our tastes. It sounds like your mother and mine are on the same page too. She adores the ocean and had property at Ocean Shores for years. I’m sending this post along to her – she’ll totally relate. Have a Merry Christmas!

  4. such a great post, and i’m totally wanting to make the ceviche bites for new years eve!

  5. These look like the perfect little bite! I live ceviche, it’s always such a fresh way to start a meal.

  6. Eftychia says:

    What a delicious bite!! Happy New Year!!

  7. oh i totally know what you mean fellow canadian! everytime someone asks me what is a popular canadian food i say `maple syrup` =.= which isn`t even a food!

  8. Emily says:

    Ceviche budget! I love it.

    Canada, like the US, definitely has its own take on dishes. We just haven’t been around as long as France to have it codified. That’s why your work is so important 🙂

    Happy new year! I love your blog.

  9. cakewhiz says:

    being a canadian who is now living in the states, i know what you mean. people ask me here what the typical canadian food is and i say potatoes too. sometimes i say “poutine”…hahahaha

    your ceviche bites look so pretty and your presentation is lovely!

  10. I absolutely ADORE ceviche! Beautiful photos too–I am totally craving seafood at 9:40 pm. Well done.

  11. This is a beautiful post. It was like reading an excerpt from a great novel…..wanting to know more about this lovely family who listened to rainstorm…..

    I love seafood, and I wasn’t even near to an ocean for 90% of my life. And this bite looks so delicious!!!

  12. We were in Ecuador a couple of years ago and just loved it! Your ceviche reminds so much of the wonderful food we ate there. And I love your reminiscing about thunderstorms – that really struck a cord with me 🙂

  13. I too love seafood although I appreciate the ocean at a distance more than swimming in it 🙂 I do love ceviche and serving it in these spoons is very practical for parties!

  14. I too love good seafood. These shrimp bites are wonderful.

  15. Except if we are at functions, we have similar kind of food. At home, we eat just normal kind of dishes with rice. Thats plenty of seafood available and your prawn looks very inviting.

  16. Liz says:

    I love the childhood memory of rainstorms…so lovely! As is your shrimp ceviche! What an elegant nibble…I’d love to make this for a party 🙂

  17. Brittany says:

    I love the title of this post, it’s so perfect. I eat so many varieties of foods I could never pick something specific. When I think American though I think about burgers and fries. These little bits of the ocean look great.

  18. Sissi says:

    I can totally understand your mum and you… I love seafood and am so sad I can never find fresh shrimp here (I find myself lucky lucky to have a huge array of frozen cheap raw shrimps and prawns in my shop). I know that fish and in general seafood tastes 100 x better when fresh, at the seaside.
    Your ceviche looks fabulous! I have heard a lot about ceviche, but have always thought it was raw “cooked” with lemon/lime juice. I am glad to discover I could prepare your recipe with my frozen raw and then cooked shrimp! (Better than nothing…).

    • kale says:

      thanks for your comment, Sissi! you’re absolutely correct, ceviche can be done by marinating the seafood in citrus juice, and it is of course delicious! i based my recipe on how i saw it prepared here on the coast and found it interesting that while the clams and oysters were thrown right in, they boiled the shrimp first. it’s a great time saver, will put the minds of your more apprehensive guests at ease, and the flavor is still stunning. (make sure you add some of that salty shrimpy water to your batch!)

  19. Christine says:

    Heaven. This is my idea of heaven! After reading this post, I am going to gather some information on the coast of Ecuador and see about making a my way to ceviche heaven.

    • kale says:

      i cannot tell you how wholeheartedly i agree with your plan, Christine! hopefully we’ll make it to other coastal towns soon to scope out the ceviches and report back!

  20. This looks so wonderful. It looks like it came straight out of the sea!

  21. I love ceviche! It’s one of those dishes that I could eat all day everyday 🙂 Thank you for sharing such a beautiful post, great recipe and gorgeous pictures 🙂

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