Much of this European influence came from Spain
as the region became a Spanish colony and most settlers were from Spain. This led
to the introduction of Spanish-styled soups, stews, desserts, and fish dishes. Even
today the heavy Spanish influence is impossible to miss, although most dishes in
Uruguay use local ingredients so they are quite different
from Spanish cuisine.
Other European countries also influenced the foods as the
Italians introduced pasta, pizza, polenta, and desserts like
gelato. The Germans introduced pastries and cakes while
also helping influence the grilling culture. Even the Greeks
made an impact with foods like gyros and desserts, including loukoumades.
Despite adopting many local plants to be used for European-inspired
dishes, the Europeans also introduced many new plants and animals to the region.
Although hundreds of plants and animals were introduced to the region by the Europeans,
a couple of the most commonly consumed of these are wheat and rice. They also introduced
new animals, most particularly pigs, chicken, and cattle. Other plants and animals
were also introduced and are now common in Uruguay, although
they differ in terms of popularity and importance. Among these, some are commonly
used like onions, cilantro, black pepper, garlic, and limes, but others are not
as common, including broccoli, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, olives, bananas, apples,
lemons, and oranges.
The cattle were very important in many ways and one of the greatest draws for European settlers to Uruguay was
due to the vast lands available for ranching. This made cattle and other animals
one of the largest industries in the region and also led to the growing Uruguayan
culture. Today this ranching past has created asado (barbeque), which is
a feast of grilled and smoked meats (and vegetables), which has since became an
important aspect of the local culture and diet.
Since the late 1800s the diet has been constantly changing, but during this time
the changes have taken place due to technological changes. Better transportation
and storage techniques allow the importation (and exportation) of foreign foods,
which are now easily accessible in large cities. During this period the cooking
techniques and the eating culture has also been altered as fast food has been introduced,
as have already prepared frozen foods.
Despite the recent changes, most people prefer a home cooked meal or going out to
a restaurant. The restaurant scene has grown in recent years and large cities, like
Montevideo, are now home to various ethnic restaurants, which haven't changed
the local foods, but rather only added to them.
When & Where to Eat
Most Uruguayans begin the day with breakfast, which is often
small and centered on coffee or tea. Although numerous foods can be served for breakfast,
many people just have a small pastry or bread with their beverage.
Breakfast is small in part because lunch is not. Throughout most of
Uruguay lunch is the largest meal of the day and many people close shops
to eat at home from about noon to 2:00 or 3:00 pm. This meal generally consists
of multiple courses and usually includes soup, meats, rice, potatoes, pasta, vegetables,
dessert, and coffee or tea. In many areas lunch is still followed with a siesta
or nap. In some cities, including Montevideo, there is a growing trend to have shorter
lunches and many times these lunches are eaten at work or a nearby restaurant. In
these cases lunches tend to be much smaller as dinner takes on the day's most
Dinner in most of the country tends to be small and takes place very late, generally
beginning at 9:00 or 10:00 pm as most people tend to have dinner in the home with
family. For those people who remain at work during the lunch hour, dinner takes
on the role as the most important meal as dinner is the largest meal of the day,
but again it tends to take place late and with family. For large gatherings, parties,
or business dinners this meal is also larger than that of lunch and may take place
in a restaurant (especially in the case of business dinners).
Beef: perhaps not a true staple, but beef and other grilled meats
are so common they are the centerpiece of many meals
Bread: breads are served with many meals or are a part of meals,
Crepes: commonly served with breakfast or dessert
Pasta: also known as "pastas" are found in many dishes
due to the heavy Italian influence
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Asado: this is a general term for barbeque, but it is
usually an event centered around meats and vegetables
Chivito: sandwich consisting of churrasco beef
with mayonnaise, olives, mozzarella, and tomatoes
Empanada: meat or fish enclosed in a dough; in Uruguay
it is often filled with cheese, although vegetables are also found
Pizza: pizza in Uruguay is a very popular dish, but is comes in
various styles, including one that is similar to a calzone
The Uruguayans tend to dress nicely, especially over meals
with new friends or business acquaintances so if you get invited to dine with the
locals in either a home or a restaurant be sure to dress nicely and, if at a business
meeting, a jacket and tie are needed for guys and girls should wear a blouse or
skirt. No matter where you're eating, be sure to arrive about 45-60 minutes
late as this is when the Uruguayans tend to arrive.
Before sitting down let your host show you a seat as they may have a particular
seating chart; be aware that men and women also tend to sit on opposite sides of
the table so if they insist you seat yourself, try to follow this rule, but reserve
the heads of the table for the host and hostess. Once you settle in try to avoid
any sensitive subjects like politics or religion; also avoid business topics over
a meal unless your host brings it up first as they usually do over lunch, but not
The table setting is similar to that of North America
or Europe so most people are familiar with it, but there
are a couple things to remember when eating. First, always keep your hands above
the table so they are in sight, preferably by resting your wrists on the edge of
the table. Next, don't begin eating or drinking until your host or hostess invites
you to do so. This is usually initiated by the words "buen provecho"
to begin eating and a toast, perhaps as simple as "salud" before
drinking. Also try to avoid pouring wine as there are a number of rules on how wine
should be poured; the two most important being to never pour with your left hand
and pour the bottle forward into the glass.
When the food arrives and you start eating, be sure to eat in the continental style,
meaning the knife stays in the right hand and the fork remains in the left. You
should use your utensils to eat everything except bread, which will often sit on
the table itself or on your main plate as bread plates are uncommon. Also try to
avoid cutting lettuce in a salad and if you pass food it should always go left.
Once you finish eating put your fork and knife together on the right side of your
plate, prongs down and handles facing right, pointing straight up. When you are
finished eating you may be offered dessert, coffee, tea, brandy, or another beverage,
which is polite to accept. After this is done, look for cues to leave, as the Uruguayans
feel it's rude to ask someone to leave so the guest must initiate this move.
Of course mentioning that you should leave prior to the conclusion of dinner and
drinks afterwards is just as rude so look out for cues from your host or simply
offer to leave when you get tired.
If dining at a restaurant, summon the waiter or waitress over by making eye contact
and saying "mozo;" you will not get a bill until you specifically
ask for it. The inviter is expected to pay for everyone, but if you are not the
host offer to help pay none-the-less. If you do pay, leave a tip of 10%, which is
the standard tip amount at a sit down restaurant.
Celebrations & Events
There are a few foods tightly associated with certain holidays in
Uruguay and one is served every month so if you happen to be in Uruguay
during these celebrations be sure to try the local favorites, although it may be
tough to avoid them in some cases. One of these celebration foods is called frankfurter
kranz, which is a German dessert filled with buttercream
or another filling and is found at nearly every celebration.
Other foods are only found at specific festivals. During Easter a dish fittingly
called Pascualina (the Spanish word for Easter is "Pascua")
is a dessert made from puff pastry, Swiss chard, and eggs, but is rarely found outside
this rotating Christian holiday.
Every year on Christmas and New Year's budin ingles or "English
pudding" is popular. This is basic pudding, but filled with fruits and nuts.
Again this dish isn't as popular other times of the year, although it can definitely
A local favorite and a dish you can get anywhere is gnocchi (or noquis).
This Italian food was traditionally eaten on the 29th day
of each month, or just prior to the monthly payday when funds were limited and this
dish was cheap. Today many people continue this tradition and eat gnocchi at the
end of each month, but again it can be found any time or the year.
Uruguay offers all the world's most popular non-alcoholic
drinks, such as tea, coffee, juices, and soft drinks. However, for a local taste,
try the indigenous drink, mate, which is made from the yerba mate
plant in much the same way tea is made. Drinking this indigenous beverage is also
a ritual as it must be drunk from a certain container (usually a gourd) and using
a certain straw.
Uruguay offers nearly every popular international alcohol
including beers, wines, and liquors. Most of these are imported international brands,
but small local beers are popular. Many wines are from Uruguay itself, including
their signature wines, made from tannat grapes. Their neighboring countries, like
Argentina and Chile also import
wines that can be easily found. To get a more authentic local flavor, ask for the
grappamiel, which is an alcohol distilled with honey. It is generally only
found in rural areas and is most commonly consumed in the cold winter months.
Generally speaking, the tap water is safe to drink in Uruguay,
but check with locals for any particular regional differences. Also, many people
may have troubles adjusting to the local tap water as it will most certainly be
different from what your system is used to.