Uruguayan cuisine revolves around grilled meat. Parrillas (restaurants with big racks of meat roasting over a wood fire) are everywhere, and weekend asados (barbecues) are a national tradition. Chivitos (steak sandwiches piled high with toppings) are hugely popular, as are chivitos al plato (served with fried potatoes instead of bread). In rural Uruguay, vegetarians often have to content themselves with the ubiquitous pizza and pasta, although vegetarian- and vegan-friendly restaurants are increasingly emerging in places like Montevideo and Colonia del Sacramento. Seafood is excellent on the coast. Desserts are heavy on meringue, dulce de leche (milk caramel), burnt sugar and custard.
Tap water is fine to drink in most places. Uruguayan wines (especially tannats) are excellent, and a small but growing lineup of craft brews is now appearing alongside traditional mass-produced beers like Patricia, Pilsen and Zillertal.
Uruguayans consume even more maté (a bitter tea-like beverage indigenous to South America) than Argentines. If you get the chance, try to acquire the taste – there’s nothing like whiling away an afternoon with new-found friends passing around the maté.
Most restaurants charge cubiertos – small 'cover' charges that theoretically pay for the basket of bread offered before your meal.
Essential Food & Drink
- Asado Uruguay’s national gastronomic obsession, a mixed grill cooked over a wood fire featuring various cuts of beef and pork, chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage) and more.
- Chivito A cholesterol bomb of a steak sandwich piled high with bacon, ham, fried or boiled egg, cheese, lettuce, tomato, olives, pickles, peppers and mayonnaise.
- Ñoquis The same plump potato dumplings the Italians call gnocchi, traditionally served on the 29th of the month.
- Buñuelos de algas Savory seaweed fritters, a specialty along the coast of Rocha.
- Tannat Uruguay's beloved, internationally acclaimed red wine.
- Grappamiel Strong Italian-style grappa (grape brandy), sweetened and mellowed with honey.