If you look down at that go cup in your hand and you see lunch, that’s usually a sign of trouble ahead. But that’s not the case with a certain go cup that’s captured my attention lately, because instead of booze the heady concoction in this one brings seafood, citrus and the promise of an enlivening lunch on a hot summer day.
This is the distinctive ceviche served from a walk-up take-out window at a Central City food court called Roux Carre. The vendor is called the Pupusa Lady, and she does indeed make fine pupusas, those cheese stuffed cornmeal cakes from Central America.
But the pupusa lady in question here, Miriam Rodriguez, was in another life known as the ceviche lady, back at the New Orleans restaurant RioMar. Regrettably, RioMar is gone but one of its menu highlights, ceviche in a range of styles, lives on at this open-air food stand. A mild mango version, a full-bore spicy haberno-spiked ceviche and a shrimp ceviche in a tomatoy seafood cocktail sauce are each ladled into plastic cups to slurp on the spot or guzzle on the go.
The Pupusa Lady’s ceviche sure is good. But it’s also appealing to me because it’s served in such a step-right-up, no-nonsense fashion, which is the way I learned to love ceviche.
The dish has caught on. It’s now a staple at all kinds of restaurants. Chefs can get creative with it, and sometimes that’s great. Other times, it can feel like a way to charge a lot of money for very little fish. Because it sounds exotic, maybe it can carry a higher price.
But the ceviche that first opened my eyes was served in a New Orleans home, prepared by a friend from Colombia. She showed me the alchemy of ceviche, how the acid of lime and other fruit could transform fresh fish without going anywhere near the stove. The texture of tightens, the surface whitens and within minutes of her cutting into the fish we were eating it. Her preparation was so casually confident, I began to see ceviche less as exotic eats and more like eminently fresh comfort food.
I’ve found a lot of good ceviche around New Orleans since. I took a leap of faith on the ceviche at a Mid-City workingman’s bar called El Rinconcito, and was rewarded by a family-sized bowl filled with shrimp and fish and onion. I’ve dredged hot, salty tostadas the size of tea plates through Mexican style ceviche at Del Fuego Taqueria Uptown and at Casa Borrega in Central City. At El Gato Negro, the waiter even prepares ceviche tableside, so you can watch the fish change colors before your eyes.
Then there’s Peruvian ceviche, which occupies its own artful niche. I’ve found it at a Kenner hole-in-the wall café called Las Carnitas, at the Freret Street Peruvian mom-and-pop Cuzco and at the Warehouse District oasis for good eats, Carmo.
And still, the prospect of go cup ceviche from the Pupusa Lady leads me back to the food court. I’ll start with a fork, spearing chunks of fish and shrimp, but by the end it’s bottoms up to drink the last of the ceviche juice. It’s bracing, fresh and delicious. And on a hot day in New Orleans, I’ll drink to that.
The Pupusa Lady at Roux Carre food court
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