The port market to enjoy traditional food and wine

MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY: No place is better to experience the taste of good beef and meat products as at the old Mercado del Puerto in Montevideo.
Mercado del Puerto (the port market) in the Old Town of Montevideo was established in 1868 as a food market with a few places to eat, and was supposed to become the largest in Latin America. Originally it was meant for provisioning the many ships in the harbour with fruits, vegetables, beef, poultry and fish. Today it has become a real gastronomic complex with a great variety of restaurants to enjoy the most traditional of the Uruguayan cousin and drink.

Tasty beef. As tradition dictates, most of the restaurants are Uruguayan style barbecue places, called Parriladas. Start with some bread, chorizos, blood sausages and some intestines, before you try to devour a kilo of juicy and very tasty beef. Everything is grilled on real wood right in front of your eyes, and vegetables are optional. Uruguayans are mostly descendants of Spanish, French and Italian immigrants, so a good option (if you for some unthinkable reasons do not want to eat meat) is fresh fish, seafood or a good selection of pasta.

Half and half. When it comes to what to pour in your glass, Uruguay produces a lot of quality wines, both red and white. One of the things to try is the very traditional Medio y Medio (half and half) originated in Roldós, this restaurant has been around since 1886. It is a mix of dry white wine, with a white sparkling wine.

The local beer is good and consumed very cold, and as a curiosity Uruguayans consume more whisky per capita than any other people in the world. For those who like dessert, try the local Dulce de Leche together with excellent coffee and the local Cognac, Juanicó.

Cognac and debt. Many will probably think that the use of the word Cognac is incorrect, but the story goes as this: Its kind of fun to find out little interesting tidbits of history as you travel around. For example, did you know that France was in such bad shape during World War II that they turned to Uruguay for help? At the time, Uruguay was a country that had been built up by many wealthy European expats, and they lent a hand to the French people in the form of food (primarily beef), wool, timber and agricultural products. Unable to repay its debt directly, the French government showed up in 1946 and built this amazing 2,000 acre gravity fed winery – an architectural curiosity, showed the Uruguayans how to make wine and how to distil the wine to make – Cognac. Yes, Cognac, a controlled appellation name in France and worldwide – with one exception – Uruguay. Uruguayans are allowed to produce brandy from the classic Ugni Blanc grape and call it Cognac… and even ship it to the European Union!

Green tea. Really top things off, try the Mate. It is supposed to help digestion and provide necessarily minerals. Mate is a green tea prepared by steeping dried leaves of Yerba Mate (Ilex paraguariensis) in hot water and is served with a metal straw from a shared hollow calabash gourd. The straw is called bombilla in Spanish. The straw is traditionally made of silver. Even if the water is supplied from a modern thermos, the infusion is traditionally drunk from mates.

Don´t say gracias. Yerba mate leaves are dried, chopped, and ground into a powdery mixture called yerba. The bombilla acts as both a straw and a sieve. The submerged end is flared, with small holes or slots that allow the brewed liquid in, but block the chunky matter that makes up much of the mixture. Mate is typically passed around within a group of friends and if you are offered to share, that is a clear sign that you are accepted. Don´t do as I did the first time and say Gracias after the first round. That means that you are done, and they will pass you by on the next round.

Apart from the gastronomy, the Mercado del Puerto has a very interesting architecture, artisans, painters, folkloric dancers and a good mix of both locals and tourists.
Leaving Mercado del Puerto; call a taxi, because you will not be able to walk.

CLICK LARGE PHOTOS from Montevideo

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