Montevideo – eating and drinking in the Ciudad Vieja
My hotel was conveniently located opposite the Mercado del Puerto, a dark atmospheric old shed constructed from cast iron sections shipped over from Liverpool. Nowadays it has been completely given over to parrilla restaurants, and one of these, El Estancia del Puerto (Intermediate B+) featured in the Uruguayan edition of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations TV series (six minutes in), so of course I had to go.
I had a lovely smiley chap serve me at the bar where I could get a good view of the parrilla itself. As in Argentina, the parrillero throws logs onto the fire at the top of the grill and rakes the embers down a slight gradient under the meat which is cooked quite slowly. Many of the grills in the market were piled high with several kinds of sausages and steaks, as well as cuts of lamb and chicken.
After weeks of eating vegetarian food in preparation for this carniverous onslaught, my unhabituated stomach wasn’t ready for the parrilla completo so instead I went for the Chorizo (A), Morcilla (B) and a section of Choto (intestine). Chorizos in South America contain no chilli, unlike those in Spain, but they’re still very tasty. The black pudding in this case was quite similar in flavour to what we have in the UK. The Choto started off very nice (A) but became less so as it got colder (C). I further flavoured the meat with liberal spoonfuls of Chimichurri (B+) and what people here call ‘Provencal’; a green salsa made with parsley and big chunks of garlic (B).
My preferred drink with this was a Chopp, the local name for a draught beer. Next time I might give the market’s traditional bevvy a whirl, Medio y Medio (half wine, half cider), although it doesn’t sound too pleasant.
On another occasion I went to Peregrino (Intermediate B+) outside on the corner of the market (Placa Castellano 1553), which has a good rep according to one of the hotel receptionists.
This time I had the typical starter of grilled ‘Provelone’ cheese, sprinkled with oregano, which was divine (A). Here it came served in a terracotta tray of small compartments, each containing a goblet of gooey gorgeousness.
I followed with two rump steaks with fries which were good but not spectacular (both B). As in Argentina, if you like it rare, you have to be very clear when ordering (vuelta y vuelta, muy jugoso). It will invariably arrive the next level up anyway, i.e. medium rare (poco hecho).
I wanted to try the famous local red wine Tannat, but was told that it was against the law to sell alcohol as it was Election Day. A good rule to ensure sensible decision making no doubt, but a bit disappointing for us non-voting tourists. The water came in a nice bottle though. With service and IVA this all came to 957 pesos, about £23.
In case you’re wondering, after a second round the election was eventually won by the Broad Front, the coalition of popular former president, Jose Mujica. Sadly the constitution did not allow this humble farmer and ex guerrilla to stand for a second time but his party still won.
Montevideo is also famous for its old cafes, many of which have a protected status (some more here). I particularly liked the look of Café Brasileiro with its dark wood interior and beautiful old bar. Lack of space and a bright sun prevented me from taking decent photos but it’s definitely worth a visit on a hot day for a glass of ice-cold homemade lemonade. The food looked ok too.
I also stumbled upon Café Misiones, at 449 26 de Mayo, with its beautiful green-tiled exterior. The inside is nothing special though (except for the ancient cash register) and the service isn’t great.
I also tried to go to the oldest bar, El Hacha at 202 Buenos Aires which is in a slightly edgy bit of the old town, but it was shut when I went so I can’t tell you what it’s like.