Food and drink in Uruguay

Food

Although Uruguay is famed for its steak and other meat products (even better than Argentina’s, at least according to the Uruguayans), there’s also a great range of Italian dishes in almost all restaurants which makes the country surprisingly welcoming to vegetarians. There’s also a strong Spanish influence (especially in seafood, where the Basques excel), as well as Slav and Jewish influences.

A traditional asado grill should begin with offal – mollejas (sweetbreads), intestines, chorizo sausage – although strangely gringos often choose to skip this stage, or to have provoleta (grilled provolone cheese with herbs). Then comes the full parrillada, a grilled selection of lomo (steak), chops, ribs and sausages (including morcilla blood sausages), with some grilled chicken for light relief. Potatoes and bread are frowned upon as unnecessary distractions that just fill you up and distract you from the main mission of eating meat. A few peppers, yams and other vegetables are, however, grilled alongside the meat, and use of the ubiquitous and very tasty chimichurri sauce is also encouraged.

If this kind of assault course is not what you feel like, a lighter alternative is a chivito, which is really Uruguay’s national dish, not found in the neighbouring countries. This sandwich of skirt steak includes lettuce, tomato, mozzarella, olives and mayonnaise, with possible extras such as fried egg, grilled peppers, beetroot, palm hearts, pickles and ham – it is served with chips.

Less iconic but still very popular is the pancho or hot dog, served in a Viennese roll with a choice of sauces; these are bought from carritos, the stainless-steel trailers semi-permanently parked at street corners all over Montevideo and elsewhere. Alternatively, a chorizo sausage served in a bread roll is called a choripán, as in chorizo y pan (sausage and bread).

Drink

The best bottled soft drinks are the Paso de los Toros line, produced in the town of the same name. Virtually all cafés and restaurants also offer native herbal teas such as boldo and manzanilla. You may also find other yuyos medicinales, infusions of herbs such as malva (mallow) and marcela (Achyrocline satureioidesA. flaccida), which is something like camomile, taken as a tea for digestive, gastro-intestinal or menstrual disorders and as a sedative. Marcela is also said to be rich in antioxidants so is more popular than ever, also being used in hand creams, for instance.

Uruguay’s national drink (even more so than Argentina’s) is, of course maté, the infusion of the leaves of Ilex paraguariensis, a shrub of the holly family.

Uruguayan wine can be excellent, and almost any restaurant will serve something decent. While it’s red wine you need to go with steak, white wine is very popular and is also served with orange juice (as sangría) and with apples, grapes and perhaps melon or pineapple (as clericó). Grappa (brandy) can be quite strong but is made much smoother with the addition of honey, the result being a winter warmer known as grappamiel.

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