A Day in the Life at Chorrillos Fish Market in Lima
Watching Lima's Catch of the Day Come In
If you drive south along Costa Verde, the road that connects Lima’s beaches, and keep going, slightly past where most of the tourists attractions are, you'll see a speckle of colorful boats in the water. These boats mark the neighborhood of Chorillos1. The boats are iconic because they are the ones that bring in fresh fish every day, and for Peruvians fresh fish means delicious ceviche.
Chorrillos is not known by name by many visitors, but you see evocative photos of the colorful boats with Lima’s early morning fog in the background hanging on the wall of many cevicherías and lining the pages of Peruvian cookbooks. I was told that this is where you can taste the freshest fish in Lima which was more than enough motivation for me to check it out for myself.
Chorrillos’s Fish Market (Mercado Pesquero) was much closer than I expected. It was just a ten minute Uber ride from Miraflores. Walking to the market from where you are dropped off, you’re greeted by well-fed and mostly well-behaved pelicans.
The market itself fits in one building. There were about five or six vendors when we went so it only took a few minutes to make a first pass around the market.
The market is small, but you can find pretty much every seafood you’d want including a variety of whole fish, crab, shrimp, lobster, octopus, squid, and clams. If you look closer, you can also find delicacies such as razor clams and sea urchin. Mistura, the seafood medley which features a sample of the day’s bounty, is great for making stews or ceviche mixto. When browsing seafood, a common phrase you hear from the vendors is “I have a live one over here!” Then, they proudly proceed to splash water on the crab or seafood of interest to prove that it’s still fresh and alive.
One of the most interesting things to do at the market is to watch the fishermen bring in their catches. It’s a lively scene and impossible to miss. Just go in the direction of the commotion. One moment they are yelling and cursing at each other. The next moment they are hugging and joking around. I guess there’s no room for being shy about emotions when the work is so physical. Watching the fishermen work, you can really see how much raw strength it takes to pull in catches the old fashioned way.
Next, we walked along the adjoining beach-Playa Pescadores (Fishermen Beach) which seemed to have its own subculture.
Some of the boats on the beach probably hadn't seen the ocean for many moons and now serve as shelter and storage for families. Along the water, you’ll likely see rows of brave locals in wet suits participating in friendly swimming competitions, even in winter. In warmer months (Dec-Jan for the southern hemisphere), the beach is swarming with local crowds.
During our first visit in June, we were disappointed to learn that we could not buy fresh ceviche right by the pier. However, there were still stalls in a small shack offering daily menú with dishes like fried fish or arroz con mariscos (seafood rice). As with most pandemic rules, the distinction of allowing sandwiches and cooked food but not ceviche to be sold by the pier where there was more ventilation than in restaurants which were open didn't quite make sense.
There was no fresh market ceviche2, but there were a couple of enterprising hawkers offering to transport us to their ceviche restaurants up the hill. There were two in particular that were quite competitive in luring us to their respective restaurants. As far as we could tell, there were no major differences between the two.
I was really craving ceviche so we went with the one that approached us first. They provided a taxi to the restaurant and back for no additional cost. Chorrillos is not in a heavily touristed area so we didn’t worry too much about this being a bait-and-switch. We asked for prices ahead a time just to be sure.
The ceviche was the standard fare. Fresh but not a "see the fishermen bring in your meal" kind of fresh; you quickly get spoiled eating seafood in Lima. All in all, there was no real advantage to having ceviche here, other than convenience. The prices were roughly the same as in other parts of Lima. Their parihuela, a classic seafood stew, was more noteworthy. It was loaded with squid, octopus, and fish. Usually a parihuela, is more broth than seafood. Their version inverted the ratio. We would’ve been hungry if we only shared the ceviche but left stuffed because of the parihuela. And this was the “personal” size.
The thing that I’ll probably remember the most from the meal is the ride back. We wanted to be back in time to see the afternoon catch come in, but the driver clearly had somewhere he really needed to be after dropping us off. He wove in and out of traffic way more than necessary and drove a few stretches against traffic. And this was only a ten-minute trip. I generally feel that the craziness of traffic in Lima and places in South America and Southeast Asia is often exaggerated, but this guy lived the stereotype.
Needless to say, we made it in time to see the afternoon catch come in. We watched as fishermen took turns dumping their catches onto the counter theatrically to get attention from prospective buyers. After spending half a day enjoying the free spectacle of the market, we became customers and bought some seafood.
We bought several cabrilla (a type of grouper) to take home. They were about 5 ($1.25) soles for each small fish. We also took home some conchas for conchas parmesana and mistura for parihuela. Mariela made chilcano (clear fish soup) and fried fish for dinner. You could definitely taste the freshness and the distinct flavor of the cabrilla. After a couple of bites, we were convinced that we’d become regulars at the market.
Tips for Visiting Chorrilos
To visit the Chorrillos fish market, look for “Terminal Pesquero de Chorrillos” on your map or ridesharing app. It was difficult to find a formal address, but locals will know it.
Fresh catches come in at 7 am and 4 pm. Time your visit accordingly if you can. We were able to go get a late lunch and come back just in time to buy freshly caught fish. We’ve driven by and seen the market open at night as well.
In addition to the market, you can walk along the pier for a 1 sole fee (25 cents). Just make sure you have change.
To make an afternoon out of the trip to the market, we took a boat ride. You don’t really see much more than you do from the pier, but it’s a fun experience for just 10 soles ($2.50). You can pay more for a boat with a motor which will take you further.
Sonia (La Rosa Lozano Y Tirado 173) is a famous cevichería in the neighborhood. However, you can’t really walk there from the market since it’s on the other side of Costa Verde. You’ll have to take a taxi that will have to double back (10 minutes total).
If you’re in Chorrillos, I would also recommend Emilio y Gladys (Velez Robles 187), another spot nearby that specializes in concha negras (black clams). My experience there is another post, for another day.
In general, Chorrillos is not a super safe area to wander around so I recommend taking a taxi straight to your destination and between destinations (using a ridesharing app, not a street taxi).
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There’s also a giant sign with the name, “Chorrillos,” on the other side of the highway, but it’s not nearly as iconic.
The ceviche stands have now returned (based on a subsequent visit in November 2021). However, they don’t seem as hygienic as the ceviche in other markets like Surquillo Market so I haven’t tried it yet. We did try a fish sandwich for 3 soles (75 cents), and the quality was pretty much what you expect for that price and no more.