Uruguayan cuisine is often overlooked when discussing flavorful Latin American dishes. Still, what Uruguay’s foods may lack in spice they make up for in generous servings of homemade chimichurri and dulce de leche. Growing up between Kansas and Uruguay, these are the foods I missed the most whenever I was away from my South American home. When we had a reason to celebrate back in the midwest we’d order empanadas from an Uruguayan bakery in Chicago, or labor for hours to handmake ñoquis. We’d do anything just for a little taste of the foods we longed to be sharing with my abuela and familia Uruguaya back in Rocha.
Here are 11 dishes from Uruguay to try as soon as humanly possible.
The only way to start a list of Uruguayan foods is with the national sandwich, the chivito. To describe this meal as a sandwich would be such a disservice for this dish that’s basically everything-but-the-kitchen-sink. The legend of the chivito tells us it was created to appease the palate of an Argentine woman who came across the Rio de La Plata and was craving chivo (goat meat). Funnily, the beloved dish doesn’t actually contain any of its namesake ingredient. It has steak, ham, bacon, a fried egg or two, and is stacked high with toppings of mozzarella, mayonnaise, tomato, lettuce, and olives. All of that is then served on top of a bed of crispy french fries.
View this post on Instagram
Lobster roasted under burlap over an open flame. Sweet, smoky perfection!! . Courtesy: @bullsbayoyro @henrietta_red @atlfoodandwine | @regrann via @vertsmoke #livefirerepublic #livefirecooking #openfire #openfirecooking #campfire #salmon #fishfordinner #grillingseason #grilledsalmon #grilledfish #plankedfish #pescado #outdoorcooking #outsidecooking #cookingoutdoors #cookingoutside #overthefire #cookingwithfire #cookingoverfire #letseat #asado #churrascaria #Braai #seafooddinner #firemakeseverythingbetter
In Uruguay, there are 3 sheep and 3 cows for each of the 3 million citizens. Uruguayans love their meat. Almost every part of the animal is grilled nightly on the parrilla, usually in family homes. If you’re not lucky enough to get invited to join an Uruguayan family for a barbeque, then head to a Parrillada. A typical asado grill out includes molleja (chicken gizzard), riñón (kidney), hígado (liver), chinchulin (the small intestine from a cow), morcilla dulce (blood sausage), asado de tira (smoked short ribs), lengua (tongue), asado con cuero (steak cooked in the skin), and of course, lomo (steak tenderloin). Choripán was always my favorite dish, which is just chorizo inside a warm, white bread bun.
There’s nothing more characteristically Uruguayan than a gourd of yerba maté. Consuming the herbal tea is a national pastime for Uruguayans. Some take their maté with sugar, like my cousins, while others drink the metabolism-boosting tea in all its earthy glory, which is how I prefer it. It’s consumed year round, regardless of the weather. You drink maté through a bombilla straw which has a built-in perforated spoon that filters out the tea leaves as you sip. You know you’re welcomed by Uruguayans when they offer you a cup of their precious elixir. The taste may be bitter but you’d be more likely to offend an Uruguayan by refusing to taste their maté than by insulting the country’s futbol hero, Luis Suárez. Drink the tea and swoon over the national soccer team and you might even get invited to enjoy a backyard asado with your new Uruguayan friends.
In Uruguay, there are never-ending variations of empanadas. They’re typically al horno (baked) instead of fried. So, they’re almost healthy? The flaky pastries are served sweet or savory. My Uruguayan father says you must try at least three flavors–carne picada con aceitunas (beef with olives), choclo y jamón (corn and ham), and panceta y queso (bacon and cheese). Save room for at least one sweet empanada of dulce de leche (caramel) or membrillo y queso (jam and cheese).
Uruguayans take their coffee in all the typical variations, but the best way to get a caffeine fix is with a cortado, preferably while sitting on a terrace with a view of the bustling streets of Montevideo. Cortados are espresso mixed with an equal amount of steamed milk. They come with tiny coconut macaroons which I always swiftly steal from my father’s plate whenever he ordered a coffee.
Pizza a Caballo
It’s safe to say that about half of all Uruguayans are of Italian heritage–a fact that’s greatly influenced the local cuisine. Fortunately, this means Uruguay has fantastic wood-fire oven pizza. Don’t just order a mozzarella pie though, do as the locals do and ask for your pizza to be a caballo. That’s right, horseback pizza. Don’t worry, this dish doesn’t call for horse meat. This special pizza is topped with fainá–a chickpea cake that originally comes from Genoa, Italy. Pizza a caballo is a favorite meal to share with friends along with a couple of Pilsen, Uruguay’s cheap and tasty light lager beer.
Dulce de Leche
View this post on Instagram
Arrancamos la mañana con algo sencillo de preparar, conitos de dulce de leche. Con esta receta salen aproximadamente 30 unidades, todo va a depender del tamaño que los hagas. Los podes bañar con chocolate amargo o blanco. A mi me gustan mas con chocolate amargo. A ustedes cual les gusta mas? Ingredientes: ????Harina 0000 250 gr ????Azúcar 120 gr ????Huevos 1 ????Manteca 150 gr ????Esencia de vainilla c/n ????Dulce de leche repostero 500 gr ????Chocolate cobertura 300 gr Preparación: lo primero que tenemos que hacer es la masa para eso, batimos la manteca con el azúcar por 3 minutos, agregamos la esencia y batimos 1 minutos mas. Agregamos el huevo y continuamos batiendo hasta que se integre, por ultimo agregamos la harina y mezclamos hasta que se forme la masa. Lo enfilmamos y lo llevamos a la heladera por 30 minutos. Estiramos la masa de 3 mm de espesor cortamos con un cortante circular las base de los conitos, las colocamos en una placa enmatecada y enharinada y lo cocinamos en un horno a 180ª por 8 minutos. Para el armado de los conitos en una manga colocamos dulce de leche repostero, armamos los conitos y es muy importante llevarlos por 1 hora al freezer. Una vez que están bien congelados los baños en chocolate cobertura y dejamos que sequen. #conitos #foodie #dulcedeleche #pasteleria #foodphotography #harina #foodstagram #instafood #recetas #cocina
Dulce de leche is the Reina of all sweets in Uruguay. In my completely unbiased opinion, the very best cookie in the world can be found in Uruguay, the alfajor. This delightful treat is comprised of two flaky shortbread cookies generously stuffed with fresh dulce de leche and then rolled in coconut flakes. Trust me, you won’t be able to have just one. If you’re like my sister and want a dessert with loads of caramel, order a panqueque con dulce de leche. It’s a thin crepe filled to the brim with dulce de leche, then topped with rum, coated in sugar, and set ablaze. If your sweet tooth still isn’t satisfied, have a churro filled with dulce de leche, a uniquely Uruguayan treat.
Italians also brought over their custom of handmade pasta. Uruguayans love the potato dumplings so much they honor the dish monthly on the 29th for Dia de Ñoquis. I have fond, yet messy, memories of making ñoqui with my abuela in her tiny blue house in Rocha. We always used simple ingredients, potatoes and water, and the traditional method of making everything by hand. Today, there are many variations of ñoqui on menus all month long–if you’re feeling daring try ñoqui made from plantains or yucca.
Uruguayans love this sweet and savory dessert that’s named after a fictional gaucho (cowboy). It’s a slice of dulce de membrillo, usually made with quince fruit, stacked atop a piece of semi-hard white Colonia cheese. It’s simple and delicious.
Another classic Uruguayan dish is milanesa, also influenced by Italian ancestors. It’s a fillet of meat pounded down to a thin, wide sliver, then breaded and fried. Milanesa Napolitana uses steak, but other renditions are made with chicken. Order milanesa a caballo to have fried eggs and french fries on top of the breaded meat–my papa says this is the only ‘real’ way to eat a milanesa.
Clericó is the Uruguayan cocktail of choice. The sangria-like concoction is made with dry white wine combined with sweet and sour seasonal fruits and a dash of liqueur to form the perfect summer cocktail. The more succulent the fruit, the more alcohol it absorbs, making for a boozy treat at the end of the pitcher of clericó. If you’re joining my family for a sundowner on the beach, there’s no doubt we’ll be headed to Porto 5 in Punta Del Este for a few pitchers of clericó along with freshly caught mussels, also cooked in wine.