“What did we eat in Uruguay last time?”
“… Uh… I had a hot dog in the street.”
Feng doesn’t care as much about food as I do—at least about Western food, he appreciates Chinese food better. He eats when he is hungry—food is food, he claims. Meanwhile, I can spend half an hour exploring a supermarket just to find cool, unique products and I can literally walk miles to find the best whatever-I-crave.
“I just can’t remember what we ate here, it drives me crazy! I know we didn’t go to restaurants in Punta Del Este. They were expensive and Mark was too young. We just had sandwiches, I think. But what did we eat in Montevideo?”
Feng looks at me, puzzled. “I… don’t remember. Does it matter?”
No, it doesn’t really matter, I guess.
It’s only when we actually arrived in the capital city that I started to remember how food “worked” in Uruguay. There is no huge difference with Argentina, really. Uruguayans also love mate, asados (grilled meat), ham and cheese are still top-of-the-list ingredients and you’ll find small pastries stuffed with dulce de leche or dulce de membrillo (a sweet quince paste) to satisfy every sugar craving.
The devil is in the details.
For instance, Uruguayan pizzas are square, for some reason. Empanadas are a bit less popular than in Argentina—instead, you can buy slices of pizza-quiche hybrids, giant savoury pies stuffed with veggies or, predictably, layers of ham and cheese. Fruits are often displayed vertically, in boxes. Medialunas are known as cruasanes, and the long straight ones are called vigilantes. Bizcocho, an assortment of small sweet or savoury treats, are a national institution, much like facturas in Argentina.
Chivito (steak, ham, cheese, tomato, lettuce, and mayonnaise pilled up between two buns) and choripán (grilled chorizo and a crusty bread such as a baguette, usually served with chimichurri sauce) are two popular fast-food options, as well as panchos (hot dogs). Among minutas (cheap options at the restaurant), milanesas (thin breaded cutlets) are often the top choice—you can also find them read to fry at the deli counter.
But mostly, we rely on bakeries and Ta-Ta, the ubiquitous Uruguayan supermarket. Compared to the Carrefour Market in Argentina, supermarkets are bigger and they have a large deli section with ready-to-eat food you just need to warm up. It’s awesome for travellers like us. Yogurts, fruits, bread and other ingredients are also pretty good and local.
One thing I don’t like: except for the bizcochos, bite-size pastries, and empanadas (pretty standard size), slices of cakes and pies are way too big!