The only way to really know a country is through its cuisine: classic dishes shared around the family table, typical meals shared among friends, small treats and snacks, popular street food, and everything in between. Discover what Uruguayans eat in their day-to-day as a way of getting closer to their culture and way of life.
Asado is the quintessential Uruguayan food. It consists of a massive grill called parrilla, where the asador (the meat chef) grills different meats, sausages, vegetables, and cheese using the embers from a wood fire. This fantastic feast is not eaten all at once, but rather in a piecemeal fashion as different ingredients finish at different times.
First comes the picada, which can include melted provolone cheese, garlic bread, sausages, sweet or savory blood sausage, and achuras (organs such as sweetbread, intestine, kidney, or liver).
As a main course you most commonly have different cuts of beef, but you can also have a rack of lamb, pork, chicken, or any combination of these. The main course is often eaten with fresh salad, potatoes roasted under the grill with butter or blue cheese, bell pepper with cheese or an egg inside, as well as grilled zucchini and eggplant.
There are plenty of parrilladas (grill restaurants) all over the country and even a marketplace full of them in Montevideo’s port market. You can choose what you want to go on your plate straight from the parrilla and watch the different foods sizzle and cook while you eat.
The chivito is a steak sandwich filled with a mountain of ingredients so delicious that celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain has named it his favorite sandwich. There are plenty of restaurants that serve chivito in Uruguay; you can get traditional chivitos, gourmet chivitos with unusual meats such as boar, and places where you can build-your-own chivito and watch them being made.
Traditionally, a chivito canadiense (the complete chivito) consists of a very thin, tenderized steak between two buttered and grilled bread buns with melted mozzarella cheese, ham, pancetta, onions, lettuce, tomato, green olives, mayonnaise, red peppers, and boiled/fried egg. If this wasn’t enough for you, it also comes with french fries and occasionally ‘Russian’ salad (potato, peas, and carrots with mayonnaise).
Empanadas are very common in Uruguay as a quick lunch, dinner, or even as an afternoon snack. Empanadas are similar to a cornish pasty but with firm dough rather than pastry. They are usually filled with variations of cheeses, with ham, minced beef, onion and pancetta, chicken, or vegetables. You can also get sweet dessert empanadas filled with quince jam, apple, or dulce de leche. The empanadas can be baked in a big pizza-style oven or deep fried. You can find them in practically every bakery for the classic flavors, or in specialized restaurants for the full range.
Corvina is a fish commonly found in the South Atlantic. It’s a white and firm fish with a mild, sweet taste and large flaky flesh similar to sea bass. It’s a versatile fish that you can find cooked in different ways throughout Uruguay. The most common method is pan-fried, but you can also find it in ceviche, stew, or soup. You can even find deep-fried corvina bites—delicious with lemon—in many seafood restaurants or small beachside eateries. The corvina negra is a distinctively large species of corvina that can be grilled whole on the parrilla.
You can find these amazing pastries in any bakery across the country. There are different types of bizcochos so people usually choose their favorites to eat as an afternoon snack or for breakfast. Every bakery has their own recipe for each type of bizcocho so the same pastry will taste very different in two different places.
The basic recipe consists of dough made with either butter or animal fat, depending on the type of bizcocho. Some are savory and plain, while others are filled with ham or cheese. There are also sweet bizcochos coated with sugar, and filled with quince jam, dulce de leche, or custard.
Unlike in Spain, chorizo in Uruguay is a pork sausage that is usually grilled. People customarily eat it in an asado or in the form of choripan, a sausage sandwich. Choripan is every local’s favorite street food, which you can find in food trucks all over the country that serve it with different sauces and toppings.
This is a simple food made with few ingredients: flour, animal fat, salt, and water. You roll these together to form a dough, then you deep-fry it and you’ve got yourself a torta frita! This simple yet delicious treat is a popular street food in busy locations such as parks or Montevideo’s coastal promenade. They are customarily offered by hotels and inns in the countryside. You can eat them plain, with jam, powdered sugar, cinnamon, or dulce de leche.
Milanesas are found in many places around the world; they are the equivalent of the Austrian Wiener Schnitzel or Milan’s cotoletta alla Milanese, a thin, tenderized steak of beef, pork, fish, or chicken coated in egg and breadcrumbs and fried. Uruguay is famous for its high-quality grass-fed beef, so it’s no surprise that the typical milanesa is made of beef. You can find them at traditional Uruguayan restaurants and cafés, and they are usually huge so they make for a hearty meal. You can ask for it a la napolitana—with tomato sauce, ham, and cheese—or en dos panes—as a sandwich with mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato.
Pizza and faina
If you’re thinking of the typical round pizzas, in Uruguay those are called pizzetas and are only found in restaurants. The authentic Uruguayan pizza is square and sold by the meter. There are three types of pizza: ‘just pizza, is tomato sauce with no cheese, ‘mozzarella’ is the cheese one, and a ‘figazza‘ is a very tasty onion pizza with no tomato sauce nor cheese. You can add whatever toppings you want to these too. It’s important to know that Uruguayans never order pizza without getting a side of faina. This local treat is a fried flatbread made with chickpea flour that you can eat by itself or on top of your pizza. It is exceptional with white pepper on top.