Uruguayan Food

This article on Uruguayan food introduces you to many of Uruguay’s most popular dishes and styles of eating. It includes chivito sandwiches, Gnocchis, faina, empanadas, Mejillones Provenzal (steamed muscles), canelones, parillasas (Urguayan barbecue - WITH VIDEO), Milanesa, fish, and Uruguayan breakfast foods.

In discussing Uruguayan food, we will cross several thin lines that will get some people confused and others upset.  Confused because some of the most famous dishes in Uruguay come from other cultures and they have been slightly transformed. Upset because of the same reason, some people will claim those dishes under their flag and will undoubtedly say that Uruguayans have copied their original recipe.

Whatever the case might be, what we call Uruguayan food here is food that is found almost everywhere in Uruguay, and that a traveler should not leave without trying.

The chivito is basically a sirloin steak sandwich. It is popular Uruguayan food that can be found and savored just about everywhere in Uruguay. The beef is grilled and placed on a bun with tomatoes, lettuce, mayonnaise, hardboiled egg, bacon strips, mozzarella cheese, ham, olives.

Some places add red peppers and change the hardboiled egg by a “sunny side up” egg. Most of the time, it comes with French fries and the way to order it to ask for a “Canadian Chivito”.

Gnocchis with chicken and
sausage in a red sauce
Gnocchis are well known in Italy and the real reason for including it here, as a Uruguayan food, is
based on the following cultural background. The two major migratory groups coming from Europe that populated Uruguay during the twentieth century were Spanish and Italian settlers and thus the origin of some of the food consumed in Uruguay.

Gnocchi became a tradition, having a special day on our tables. It is mostly eaten on the 29th day of every month and as the tradition would have it. The person dining is supposed to put a coin or a folded bill under their plate when eating this pasta so to ensure a constant money flow for the following month.

Gnocchi Recipe
To make Gnocchi one should peal, cut, boil and mashed potatoes. Once at room temperature you will season that mashed potatoes with salt, ground pepper and add egg yolks and flour to start kneading the mixture until dough is produced.

You will take then part of this dough and roll it to get a cylinder about half an inch in diameter. You will then cut small sections of the cylinder (about ¾ of an inch long). You may have to sprinkle flour on top for them not to stick.

The last step is to roll with your thumb these sections over a fork to get the grooves and a small hole where the butter of the sauce that you will prepare to dress the gnocchi will deposit.

Cook the gnocchi in plenty of boiling water with salt and make sure you remove them from the pot when they begin to float (that will tell you they are done).

Once cooked you should add a good pasta sauce or a butter with sage mix and do not forget to have plenty of parmesan cheese and a good red wine to go with the gnocchi.

A funny anecdote regarding this dish is common to Argentina and Uruguay: during a point in our history, politicians used to buy votes by giving public jobs to the people that voted for them. These folks had really nothing to do and some of them never showed up for work but they still got paid at the end of the month. The common worker that got up early each morning began calling these guys GNOCCHIS because they only showed up on the 29th to get paid, not to be seen until next month.

Faina is a Uruguayan food found at all pizza parlors in Uruguay. The recipe for making faina is a basic mix of chickpea flour, oil, water and salt that is baked in large round trays usually in wood burning ovens. The end product is a thin dough (fairly oily) that is sprinkled with white pepper powder before eating. The center is thicker and less crunchy than the edges.

In this country it is common to order pizza by the slice and you should know that if you order just pizza, what will be served will not have cheese. To order it with cheese, then should ask for a MUZZARELLA. The toppings are charged extra and you are welcomed to add as many as you want.

Last, should you want to go very “local” order a pizza or a mozzarella “on a horse” and it will come with a slice of FAINA on top.

Mejillones Provenzal
Provenzal style mussels. Mussels are harvested by local people at coastal resorts and are sold with or without the shell. For this Uruguayan food entrée you will use the ones with shell. Provenzal style mussels is a simple recipe of steaming open the mussels in a pot with a little bit of water and white wine. (Keep the lid on to retain the steam).

Finely chop fresh garlic and parsley and add to the pot once the mussels have opened and the heat has been turned off. Also add some lemon juice

IN regard to Uruguayan food, the word PROVENZAL when seen on a menu describes the mixture of garlic and parsley. It could also include lemon juice and olive oil. You will encounter it in dishes such as Lamb Kidneys or Fish Filet to name a few.

Empanadas are a popular Uruguayan food that is easy to describe since they are a form of
TURNOVER that could be baked or deep fried. But the simplicity of this finger food ends when you begin trying to place an origin to it since Argentineans will claim it to their cuisine and so would people from other countries.

Suffice it to say that they are very popular, economic and delicious. Unlike their American counterparts which are always sweet, empanadas in Uruguay are filled with all sorts of combinations: ham and cheese, onions and cheese, olives and cheese, pepperoni and cheese, cream of corn, ground beef, chicken, fish, tomatoes-muzzarella-basil, apple cinnamon, dulce de leche (caramel like very sweet paste) and many other combinations.

Cannelloni a Uruguayan food similar to “Crepes” and are found on almost all menus in Uruguay.

They are most commonly made with one of the following three fillings: cream of corn, ground beef or spinach.

Most of the time canelones are covered with white sauce (Béarnaise), sprinkled with parmesan cheese, and set under the broiler until golden brown. They could also include tomato sauce or both.


Parrillas will be the longest entry in this list of Uruguayan food and eating habits of Uruguay, since it deals with the one item that Uruguayans and Argentineans have the highest consumption per capita in the world over any other country; yes, we are talking about beef and particularly grilled beef.

The word PARRILLA describes the metal grill over which the meat will be placed. In Uruguay grilling is done with hot red coals coming from the burning of fire wood, unlike our Argentine neighbors that prefer to do it with coal.

Over this grill almost everything and anything can be found. The most common for us is short ribs “ASADO” and boneless cuts like rump cap “PICANHIA”, top sirloin “CUADRIL”, strip loin “BIFE ANGOSTO”, tenderloin “LOMO”, flank “VACIO”, skirt steak “ENTRANIA”, New York “ENTRECOT”. In addition to the cuts you will also find “CHORIZO” sausage, “MORCILLA” blood sausage, kidneys, chitterlings, sweetbreads, lamb, chicken, deboned chicken stuffed with ham-cheese-peppers-olives, bell peppers, provolone cheese and more.

At parrillas you will also be able to find salads to go with your meats, pastas, and other dishes. In the menus you will see something called PARRILLADA and that is a wide array of different items from the grill. The idea is to make a selection that will expose you to different items and flavors.

Uruguayans are not very keen on adding sauces to their barbeques and thus all grilled meats are only sprinkled with salt. You can ask for “CHIMICHURRY” that is a popular sauce made with parsley, garlic, oregano, paprika, salt, vinegar and olive oil that goes very well with the beef.

To wrap up this section two things should be added. When you order salads in Uruguay olive oil and vinegar will be brought to your table to dress the salad, we do not use salad dressings. The second item to consider is the cooking points of your beef. We use only three: “JUGOSO” – rare, “MEDIO” – medium and “COCIDO” – well done.


This Uruguayan food is another good ambassador of Uruguay and particularly of Uruguayan fast food. Milanesa describes a cut of beef or chicken that has been breaded and deep fried.

They are very popular and most of the time the side dish that goes with them are French fries. Milanesas can be transformed to NAPOLITAN STYLE Milanesas by adding sliced ham, mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce on top.

PESCADO (fish) is found in most menus in Uruguay but not in large selections. One of the reasons being is the fact that fish in general is more expensive than beef and thus the people of Uruguay are not used to eat large amounts of it.

One cultural difference with other countries is that most fish you will eat in this country has been fillet and thus you will not be served a whole fish at most restaurants.

This is a small guide to the fish you will find and how they are called: Pollack “ABADEJO”, tuna “ATUN”, cod “BACALAO”, swordfish “PEZ ESPADA”, sole “LENGUADO”, shark “TIBURON”, red cod “BROTOLA”, corvine “CORVINA”. The most common cooking methods are grilled, baked and fried in different ways and with different sauces.

For breakfast Uruguayans take coffee or tea, most of the time with toast, butter and marmalade or with pastries. Eggs, bacon or sausages are not common and you will only find them at places that cater to foreign clientele as in large hotels. Omelets are also not common but easier to come buy at most restaurants.

Cakes and pastries
Cakes and pastries are everyday Uruguayan food items that you should try since you will probably discover some new tastes.

Uruguayans do not use cream in their coffee drinks so what you will get is milk. Cappuccinos and espresso coffees are very good Give them a try.

by Martín de Larrobla

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