A Brief History of Uruguay's Chivito

Chivito Canadiense
Chivito Canadiense | © Matt Rubens/Flickr
Photo of Milena Fajardo
6 September 2017

If there is one thing Uruguayan people are more proud of than their football, it is their national cuisine. A meat-lover’s paradise, Uruguay produces some of the best-quality beef in the world, used in a variety of traditional dishes. One of these is the chivito, an insanely large steak sandwich – if you can call it a sandwich – that is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.

What is a Chivito, Anyway?

The typical Uruguayan chivito has as many variations as there are people who make it. A chivito común (“common Chivito”), the simplest of its kind, consists of these staple ingredients: a thin, tenderized beef steak between two buttered buns, ham, melted cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, and mayonnaise.

Chivito | © Rubber Slippers In Italy/Flickr

Its enormous potential for modifications, however, is what makes the famous meal what it is today. Every bar or restaurant has its own version, so you can always be surprised by new flavours, ranging from the exotic wild-boar steak to Thai, Mexican, or Mediterranean concoctions. The chicken, lamb, pork, and vegetarian options are must-tries, too. You can even have it al plato (“on the dish”) if you’d like a low-carb option.

Chivito | © Roberto Rodríguez/Flickr

The Chivito Canadiense

This particular version of chivito is possibly the most famous in the country. It is said that its creation dates back to 1951, when a restaurant owner wanted to treat his guests to a special kind of chivito, which was already popularised in Montevideo at that time. The innovation was that he included Canadian bacon on top of the classic ingredients, and coined the term “Canadian Chivito.”

Nowadays, the chivito canadiense generally includes bacon, egg, peppers, onions, and olives on top of the ingredients in the common chivito, with a side of fries and a Russian salad (potato, peas, and carrots with mayonnaise).

Chivito | © Graham Stanley/Flickr

The Origins of the Chivito

The chivito is one of the few dishes that can be attributed exclusively to Uruguayan gastronomy, because its creation was noted in the press at the time. According to the book Chivito: The King of the Meat Sandwiches by Alejandro Sequeira and Armando Olveira Ramos, it was Antonio Carbonaro, the owner of the famous restaurant El Mejillón in Punta del Este, who invented the first chivito on December 31 1944.

The story follows an Argentinian tourist who arrived at the restaurant one night asking for goat meat (chivo). Even though they didn’t serve that kind of meat, Carbonaro refused to lose the customer and prepared a toasted bread sandwich with butter, ham, and a thin, medium-rare beef steak. He told the customer the dish was called chivito (or “little goat”). Nowadays, it’s one of Uruguay’s favorite dishes, and a thousand chivitos are said to be sold every day. Its original recipe has expanded and diversified throughout the years, so don’t forget to try out some different ones, and tell us which one you love most.