Let’s eat
the whole cow

Feast an in-depth exploration of a traditional local dish and how it connects to the culture, with recipes and recommendations where to eat

We were completely unfazed by those who laughed at us and
suggested we were crazy for travelling all the way from the UK to Montevideo, Uruguay to try the best barbecue meats in the world. My mouth was watering as we walked up the steps of the plane at Heathrow airport that would take us to Buenos Aires via Madrid, where we’d pick up the Buquebus to Montevideo. We looked at each other and smiled each knowing “there’s no going back now.” Montevideo may not be splashed all over the glossy high street travel brochures of South America, like it’s stunning bythe-sea neighbour Punta del Esta, but Montevideo has nothing to feel ashamed of. Montevideo is the capital of Uruguay’s political and commercial heart.

A few skyscrapers may blaze into the sun filled sky, but for the visitor there are a collection of small museums and a busy old city and port area to enjoy.

With only a few tourists roaming the streets, Montevideo’s 1.3 million residents are keen to show off their city to visitors, but not promote it too much in case it gets overrun. We met our bilingual tour guide Alberto Rodriguez from the Ciudad Vieja Tour Company outside the Mercado del Puerto in La Ciudad Vieja (the old city). “Welcome to Montevideo, my city,” he greeted us warmly “I am keen to show you it from a local perspective.” From the outside the market looks like any other tourist attraction in a relatively shabby looking area surrounded by restaurants and other eateries, the area outside home to vendors selling paintings and other Uruguayan crafts. At the doorway stood a couple of men energetically playing the guitar and singing a tune, but all I could concentrate on was the delicious smell of barbecue meats coming from within the markets walls.

The building reminded me of an old-fashioned railway station with its glass roof and metal structure that resemble what you will have seen on TV if you’re an old black and white movie fan.

That’s where the similarity stops, you’ve never seen anything like Mercado del Puerto, and it is literally teaming with hungry hoards and the smell of barbecued meats. The smoke fills the entire building and escapes through open windows and entrances whilst the delicious smell attracts more and more.

Alberto explained enthusiastically that each place had its own reputation and specialties for us to try and reconfirmed what we already knew; beef was the favourite dish

%TNT Magazine% Shutterstock 1198263628

Image Credit: eskystudio (shutterstock)

workers from the surrounding streets into the market. Each venue within the market serves the same or very similar dishes, steaks, kidneys, liver, sweetbreads, blood sausage, intestines and lots more which are cooked over wood fired grills. Some places are small, some are family orientated,
some have swivel chairs for you to sit and eat at the bar, many have white table clothed seating areas and a few even have enclosed dining room (best of luck getting one of these).

Alberto explained enthusiastically that each place had its own reputation and specialties for us to try and reconfirmed what we already knew; beef was the favourite dish. There is very little (in English) on the Internet regarding specific places to eat within Mercado del Puerto, so we were glad that we’d arranged to spend the afternoon with Alberto. We wandered through the market, taking in the energy, sites and enjoying meats at some of the busier looking venues.

I don’t think we would have managed to order as successfully without his help. We ordered mouth-watering steaks that were succulently perfect and huge cattle kidneys (I’m not a fan of kidney). I found myself pleasantly surprised, as they tasted like the steak. I enjoyed delicious chunky liver (cattle must be huge in Uruguay), sweetbreads that were light and tasted a little like bacon (an expensive treat and delicacy) and blood sausage barbecued to perfection.

The only thing I could not eat were the intestines, the tubes looked like something out of an alien movie, the blubbery consistency felt wrong to me, so I politely spat it into my hankie. Swallowing really was not an option. Two hours into eating we were stuffed and could hardly be bothered to move. It was at this point that half the market erupted into applause.

Alberto explained to us that it is customary to give the burly beef filled cook a round of applause when he has made a good job of the meat. If you want to get really involved just copy what the locals do, they’ll

appreciate it and want to engage with you. The Mercado del Puerto is located a few minutes’ walk from the port area, so you shouldn’t have any problems locating it from the passenger terminal. We recommend giving it a try. We can see why Uruguayans boast that this is one of South America’s greatest food experiences.

“What about Mate, have you tried it?” Alberto asked. We had heard a lot about yerba mate tea, its invigorating properties, and the local obsession with mate and were keen to give it a go. “Only one problem” he laughed “there’s only one place in Montevideo that sells it and it’s closed.

Come to my apartment.” We were surprised that there was only one place that prepares and sells mate as the guidebooks wrongly suggest that every cafe and bar is full of mate drinkers. We were happy to follow Alberto to his apartment that was five minutes’ walk from the Mercado del Puerto in La Ciudad Vieja along the residential street Pérez Castellano.

At Alberto’s apartment we gathered around the kitchen table and met his wife Veronica where she performed the mate ceremony and explained and demonstrated every step of the process to us.

After a couple of hours of mate drinking and light hearted conversation Veronica said that we could stay with them for the four nights that we were planning on staying in Uruguay.

The second floor apartment was large and had a bedroom with two single beds and a shower and toilet for our use only. It was their plan to start renting out the room to tourists and we were lucky enough to be the first.

%TNT Magazine% Shutterstock 404847667
%TNT Magazine% Shutterstock 1333055828
%TNT Magazine% Shutterstock 554697046

the mate ceremony

1. Pack the dry mate leaves into the gourd (cup) to just over half way.
2. Place your hand on top of the gourd and turn it upside down making sure that any fine pieces of leaves are near the top. This will ensure that you don’t swallow all the powdery bits through the bombilla (straw) later.
3. Turn the gourd on its side and give it several light shakes.
4. Insert the bombilla into the gourd.
5. Pour hot, not boiling water into the gourd. Boiling water has a habit of making the mate taste bitter.
6. Don’t play around with it, when its handed to you drink it and pass it on to the next person to prepare.
7. Keep repeating until the mate loses its taste.

Yerba mate is a traditional South American herbal tea made from the leaves of the Ilex paraguariensis plant. It is a popular beverage in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, and other parts of South America.

Find out more about some of the tours offered by Alberto  – https://ciudadviejatour.com/