Eating through Uruguay….meh
One of the best parts of traveling to a new place is digging into their culinary secrets. We were both looking forward to eating our way through Uruguay and had done our homework watching Bourdain’s episode featuring Uruguay as well as finding some online resources for food tips. We expected it to be the highlight of our trip.
We were disappointed.
When all said and done we spent a lot more on food than we’d budgeted and really can only look back at a couple of meals with a smile. We found the food in Uruguay to be very limited and fairly bland. The main options we kept coming across were parrillada (grilled meats), pizza, milanesa (breaded and fried meat sandwich) and the local claim to fame, the chivito (a loaded sandwich). There are also a lot of Italian restaurants and while I’m certain a good pasta dish can be found, I didn’t find it. We tried all of these basic options more than once and while we did have some really amazing meat off the grill and one great chivito experience, in general we were let down more often than we were left pleased.
We could have eaten cheaper on the street, and we did a few times, but the options weren’t particularly healthy and we’re suckers for the restaurant dining thing. Street food in Uruguay basically boils down to empanadas, chorizo sandwiches, hamburgers and hot dogs.
Perhaps it was just bad luck or bad choices, but after 20+ days in a country you’d think the odds would be in your favor to make a few decent choices. I remember before our trip I was reading a food blog that said that they’d finally found a restaurant they liked and ate there 7/10 nights. At the time I thought “how boring.” Now that we know that a good restaurant with good service and fair pricing is the exception and certainly not the norm, I can see why that person did that. We found one place in Montevideo that we loved and ate there 3 times.
At one point I even convinced my husband to order in Chinese food, just to have a little variety in flavors and the possibility at having something remotely spicy. The fact that he quickly agreed means things were getting desperate – he normally wouldn’t go for Chinese over other options.
There is a silver lining though as we did have a few great meals. And one bonus was that even though restaurant food is expensive, if you pay with a foreign credit card their taxes at 22% are immediately taken off. So the trick was trying to stick to places that accepted credit card so we could get a discount off the menu prices.
One thing done amazingly well in both Uruguay and Argentina is the croissant, or medialuna. Warm and melt-in-your-mouth delicious! They do sweets pretty well in general, with a lot of focus on dulce de leche. I don’t eat sweets so I can’t vouch for any of it, but Luis claims the desserts he had were heaven on a plate.
One of our favorite culinary moments was in Colonia del Sacramento where we ate at Gran Suspiro. I was a bit leery because it was on the famed street “Suspiro” and I thought that might mean it nothing more than an expensive tourist magnet, but it ended up being such a pleasant evening. We had a lovely waitress, which after our long weekend of rude waiters in Buenos Aires was quite a treat, and the restaurant uses only ingredients sourced from the small state of Colonia.
Uruguay loves its chivito. It’s a sandwich like no other that can be made several different ways but the main ingredients are thinly sliced beef, lettuce, and tomato. Sounds harmless, but the ingredients that go on afterwards are plentiful!
The milanesas, breaded sandwiches weren’t far behind in how excessive they can be. If I look scared in this picture, it’s because I am!
But the thing they do best, and what we were most looking forward to is wine and beef!! While we did go to a few places that insisted on over-cooking our beef, we found several that were amazing. Our favorite was La Pulperia in the Punta Carretas neighborhood of Montevideo. Best beef, perfectly cooked, great service and more than reasonably priced. For $40 we had a bottle of wine, 2 meat appetizers, 2-3 cuts of prime beef and a baked potato. We were gluttons at this place, no doubt about it.
On our last night while waiting to head to the airport, we made a list of our favorite meals. For the amount of money we spent in restaurants and the number of days we were in Uruguay, the list should have been a lot longer, but the meals that made the list were beyond awesome. So, we’ll just know for next time!