The Cuisine of Uruguay


Dinner, usually served late, is definitely worth the wait. Restaurants specializing in grilled meats are plentiful here. Uruguay’s steak houses are called parrilladas, after the multi-course platter of beef cuts these establishments serve and the grill that cooks them. When you travel to Uruguay, expect a divine grilled experience, savoring aged, grass-fed beef cuts as well as a garlic sausage, with a side of grilled vegetables. Uruguay’s beef vocabulary is extensive, and terms may refer to the part of the cow, the thickness and doneness of the meat and how it is prepared.

Grilled meat dishes will often be accompanied by the deep green chimichurri sauce that combines the Italian influence of pesto with the peppery delight of Latin America. In Uruguay, charcoal is not the fuel of choice; rather meats are grilled over wood embers. To travel to Uruguay without eating a steak is like going to Paris and skipping the Eiffel Tower.

During their Uruguay tours, vegetarians will find an array of meatless omelets, frittatas and entree pies, including the popular pascualina, containing spinach or Swiss chard. Along the coast, vegetarians will encounter lechuga de mar, a nutrient-rich seaweed, served in omelets. Street-corner dining offers empanadas with cheese and onion filling instead of meat. Italian cuisine is ubiquitous throughout Uruguay, with a vast array of meatless pasta sauces, ensuring that vegetarians will not go hungry. You’ll find more vegetarian restaurants in the capital than elsewhere but who cares as long as pasta is on the menu?

As in other South American countries, a large lunch is customary. Among its mid-day offerings, Uruguay is known for its steak sandwich, called the chivito. Other popular snack foods include empanadas, choripan, a sausage sandwich on French bread, and a Milanesa sandwich, usually consisting of breaded beef or chicken cutlet with all the fixins’. When ordering pizza, visitors on Uruguay tours should be aware that some varieties, including the one called “pizza,” are prepared without cheese. One unusual pizza topping is faina, a chickpea flatbread. Stuffed pizza (pizza rellena) is popular. Don’t be surprised to find your pizza accompanied by French bread, an interesting Uruguayan tradition.

Visitors who like their desserts rich and sweet will find happiness when they travel to Uruguay. Flan is found most everywhere. In several popular desserts, the caramel and milk concoction, called dulce de leche, is an ingredient used as a filling for churros, pancakes and cookies such as alfajores that contain a dollop between shortbread outer layers. Dulce de leche may also be found among the layers of the classic French Napoleon, called a milhoja. Dulce de membrillo is a tart quince paste that may be sliced and spread on toast or used as a pastry topping or pie filling.

Facturas are a breakfast tradition from Germany. These pastries are also known as media lunas and resemble croissants. A sweet treat available on many street corners is garrapinada, caramel-corn-like peanuts, rolled in vanilla, sugar and sometimes cocoa.