Uruguay – Montevideo
Nestled at the edge of the rio de la Plata (more like a sea, being the widest river in the world) before it spills its content into the Atlantic ocean, Uruguay is a small country squeezed between the much larger Brazil in the north and Argentina to the south. Perfect for visiting any time of the year thanks to it warm, mild climate Uruguay makes a great destination for visiting historical Montevideo, enjoying the beaches all the way to the glamorous Punta del Este on the Atlantic coast and exploring the interior.
Montevideo is a port town and the capital of Uruguay, home to more than half of the population of the country. Its colonial history is evident in the Ciudad Vieja (old town) and the main square, Plaza de la Independencia. The Plaza is dominated by Palacio Salvo, an art deco structure more than 100 meters tall and the best known building in the skyline of the city. The monument in the center of the plaza is a tribute to Josde Gervasio Artiga, the founder of the country. The old town is home to the magnificent Catedral Metropolitana, the seat of the Catholic Archidiocese de Montevideo. Avenida 18 de Julio is the main avenue connecting the Plaza Independencia to the commercial center and municipal palace of Montevideo. Along it you’ll come across the 50 meters high obelisk built in 1930 to commemorate 100 years of the Uruguay constitution. There are several museums in town but we did not get to visit them this time.
One thing that surprised me was the modern architecture, slick sky scrappers and stylish apartment buildings. Carrasco, a high end residential neighbourhood has beautiful apartment buildings, outdoor cafes and restaurants, shopping and a weekly farmers market. I could easily spend the winter in an apartment there with a large balcony overlooking the sea-like river.
The Rambla of Montevideo is a beachside avenue stretching east and the beautifully paved promenade alongside is more than 20 km long. Apparently it is the longest continuous promenade in the world.
Mercado Agricola – Agricultural Market of Montevideo
This market with over 100 vendors is situated north of downtown in a 100 years old historical building that was recently renovated. The vendors offer anything from produce, meats, seafood, breads, pastries, wines, olive oil, cheese, kitchenware, local wool and leather products and more. It made me wish I had a kitchen. Several eateries will tempt you with beautiful food and drink. I think Uruguay may be a yet hidden treasure on the global culinary scene.
Mercado del Puerto – the Port Market in Montevideo
This waterfront market is a favourite with tourists as it is close to the harbour and within a walking distance from the dock but don’t let that deter you from going, it’s a lot of fun. This is not a produce market though. Rather it is filled with eateries both inside and outside as well as craft shops that I didn’t pay much attention to. The market is in the heart of the old city and in the distant past the original building used to be an auction house where all auctions were carried out. I understand it included auctioning labour (euphemism for slavery), terrible thought. However, today it is a bustling market full of locals and tourists and is fun to spend some time at. Sunday lunch at the market is a local ritual.
I didn’t get to experience everything as we only had a short stay but next time I plan to go to one of the Cuisine Secret dinners at the home of chef Elsa Manefle in the Ciudad Vieja or look for pop up dinner sometimes organized by chefs in the city.
The food and drink
Parilla – being a South American country you know that meat grilled on wood fired it their thing. We went to the Mercado del Puerto near the port where you can shop for crafts and eat at one of the restaurants to experience local assado (grilled meat).
Emapanadas – of course, they have all the empanadas I spoke of before here.
Chivito – the quintessential street food in Uruguay, a juicy steak sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, egg and who knows what else, served on a plate and eaten with fork and knife.
Choripan – their version of a hot dog: fat sausages grilled over fire served inside bread like a hot dog. It’s a futbol game (soccer) fast food.
Morcilla dulce – a blood saasage made with walnuts raisins and therefore (apparently) slightly sweet. NEVER.
Pizza por metro – pizza by the meter, similar to pizza al taglio in Rome but bigger. Pizza is a big food item in Montevideo.
Fainá – flatbread made with chickpea flour and baked like pizza but without topping. Sometimes they do top it with cheese I hear.
Pascualina – pie filled with spinach and topped with fried egg.
Dulce de leche – of course and plenty of it. My favourite flavour. It is a sweet caramel sauce made from slow cooking of milk and sugar to a brown golden colour and thick, creamy texture. Yum. Goes with everything.
Churros – fried sweet pastries sprinkled with cinnamon or dipped in dulce de leche.
Alfajores – dule de leche sandwiched between two light cookies. Oh yes, give me more.
Dulce de membrillo – quince jam in solid form, served with a slice of cheese. They named this Martin Fierro, after a fictional character written by an Argentinian poet and political writer who spent much of his life in exile in Uruguay. Apparently, being a creature of habit, he always ordered the dessert of quince paste and cheese and since he was highly respected, they named the dessert after him.
Maté – Uruguayan are fond of Maté, a special drink made with yerba tea leaves but does not resemble what our concept of tea is. They fill the special gourd cup with tea leaves to the top, pour in hot water, sometime add a little sugar, then insert a bombilla (silver straw with a filter at the bottom) and sip it slowly, adding water as necessary. Never move the spoon once you poured the water in, it stays put. We saw men on the street walking with their mate in hand. It was interesting to watch.
Grappamiel – Just like it sounds, grappa with honey. Dunno, didn’t try.
Medio y Medio – meaning half and half, a popular drink consisting of a mixture of half sweet sparkling wine and half dry white wine.
Cortado – espresso with a touch of warm milk.
The merienda is not a food but a food custom, like an afternoon tea or an aperitivo in other countries. Around 5-6 pm people flock to local cafes for coffee or maté and indulge in pastries and cakes. I can do that but it has to be decaf at that time. Try Cafe Bar Tabar for fancy or Cafe Brasilero for casual.
On to Punta del Este
From Montevideo we drove east to Punta del Este, an upscale beach resort community known as the Monaco of South America. I had to check it out and will report in the next post.