Unlike many parts of South America that have seen indigenous cultures introducing dishes into the cuisine of the country, Uruguay has a cuisine that is almost entirely made of dishes imported from Europe. The variety of influences means that there are Spanish, Italian, British, German, and other European influences to be found in Uruguayan cuisine, which gives it a varied and interesting range of foods on offer.
There are also several types of food that are served and eaten differently from how they would normally be in Europe. One important feature of Uruguayan cuisine is the use of beef, with Uruguayans being the world's top consumers of beef per person.
This traditional barbecue is to be found across South America and is certainly an event that is worth enjoying if you do get the opportunity to visit Uruguay. Asado is a barbecue over an open fire, and while many people will see lamb, goat, or other meats being used, there is no doubt that in Uruguay, beef is the king of the asado barbecue.
These events are often shared meals on weekends or special holidays. The people of a local area will come together, with the hosts preparing the asado and visitors bringing side dishes or salads with them, to make for a wonderful social occasion.
Like many countries in South America, the empanada is a European type of pastry that is commonly filled with beef or ham and cheese, although there are a variety of fillings available, including many that are only found in specific regions of the country. These are often some of the best examples of fast food available, while bakeries will also sometimes prepare sweet versions of the pastries.
One distinctive version of the dish is the Empanada Gallega, which was brought to Uruguay by Galician immigrants, and sees the pastry filled with fish, onions, peppers, and a tasty sauce.
Originating from the German city of Frankfurt, this dessert which translates as the Frankfurt Crown has become popular in Uruguay, often served in restaurants and on special occasions. The sponge cake base for the dessert is baked in a ring-shaped tin and is then sliced into two or three slices before being filled with buttercream icing and fruit preserves.
The cake is then re-formed with the layers in place before being coated in more buttercream which is then liberally sprinkled with crunchy caramel hazelnuts, adding texture and flavor to the cake.
In its native Italy, the grain porridge polenta is usually served as a side dish along with meat or other food, but in Uruguay, the meal has been adapted so that the polenta is actually the central ingredient. This is a popular and inexpensive dish, and the polenta is then served with a sauce, usually similar to the sauces served with pasta, along with melted cheese.
This is a dish often served at family dinners or large gatherings and is usually one of the least expensive dishes to buy for those traveling through Uruguay on a budget.
Similarly to the empanada, visitors to Uruguay will find that the churro is a dish available in both sweet and savory varieties, although the savory churro is a Uruguayan creation based on the success of the sweet churros of Spanish origin.
The sweet versions are pastry fingers that can have fillings including chocolate and dulce de leche and are commonly available from bakeries and street vendors. The savory varieties are also worth tasting; the cheese-stuffed churro is something that will rarely be tasted outside Uruguay.