As Odysseus was nearly drawn to his destruction on the rocks by the enchanting song of the sirens, so your hardy WANF voyagers were almost powerless to resist breaking themselves on the plentiful tables of Uruguay. However, unlike Homer’s hero, for whom women were the main weakness throughout his epic peregrinations, during our recent travels in South America, we found that grilled organs, specifically sweetbreads, are the likely source of our eventual ruin.
A comparatively short (by Odysseian standards) three-hour Buquebus ferry ride from Buenos Aires across the Mar del Plata – the enormously wide and constantly brown estuary of the Rio de la Plata (River Plate) – lies Uruguay’s capital and largest city, Montevideo. Arriving by water feels delightfully old-fashioned, and it allows the visitor to get a sense of the lie of the land in a way that a plane ride cannot. Rather than the confusing meander through a city’s outskirts on the way in from the airport, the city slowly revealed itself to us as we approached it by sea, face-first, so that we could see the way it had been built, outwards from the port.
Centered on the port is Montevideo’s cuidad vieja (old town), which with its faded colonial glory and salty night-time reputation, is immediately charming to the visitor. Only the giant ultra-modern cruise ship towering over everything prevented us from wondering if the ferry hadn’t also been a time machine. The hub of the old town is the Mercado del Puerto, a magnificent Victorian-era market with a skylit roof supported by wrought iron pillars, where the air is thick with the thwack of cleaver on meat, the cries of competing vendors and the sooty warblings of its resident pigeons. It no longer serves as a venue for trading fresh produce, a fact that might be sad if it weren’t now a giant parilla (grill/barbecue) serving all manner of traditional Uruguayan meaty preparations.
More accurately, there are actually a bunch of different parillas within the mercado all in friendly and typically laid-back Uruguayan-style competition with one another for the title of best in the city. We spent a good fifteen minutes cagily circling the mercado trying to figure out some way of discerning which might be leading this contest. After inspecting rack upon similar rack of sizzling meats, we decided to let demographics be our guide and plumped for Estancia del Puerto, the place with the fewest available seats (2), and the most drunken dudes with guitars serenading the patrons (1).
We had left Buenos Aires on a very early morning ferry and, having eaten nothing on the journey, arrived in Montevideo in a terrible, bleary-eyed state of hunger. The only way out of which seemed to be robust servings of charred beast. Happily then, the menu was the most extensive of its kind we have ever seen, containing more than eight choices of steak, five of sausage, 3 or 4 matambres (stuffed beef rolls), chicken, pork, and an intimidating selection of organ meats, not to mention a full range of pasta, salads and sides, in both full or half portions. Understanding, by this point in our carnivorous odyssey, that servings tended to be of a generous nature in this part of the world, we ordered half portions of mollejones (sweetbreads), morcilla (blood sausage), lechon (suckling pig), the potentially gruesome chotos/chinchulines (guts), and a bottle of typically Uruguayan tannat (red wine), in the hope that this might save room for further sampling of the menu.
Since, like all good grills, only certain sections of this parilla were used to actually cook meat, with others functioning as warming areas for ready-to-serve meats, we were presented with our choices within seconds, and what a presentation! No garnish, no sides of vegetables, no wasted real estate at all, just meat on plates and silverware wrapped in a paper napkin, with deep, communal tubs of chimichurri and salsa criolla scattered around the bar. We dived in recklessly.
The star of the show was the lechon, or milk-fed baby pig, which was heavenly. So good in fact, that were it not for the perfectly crispy skin overlying a thin-layer of incredibly sweet fat, and the moist, almost milky-tasting, flesh of unweaned piglet, it would truly be a barbaric dish. But our pause for reflection on the plight of young pork was brief as we tore into the golden beauty of the sweetbreads, the complex spices of the morcilla, and the (surprisingly) wonderful crunchy texture and minerally-tasting joy of the chinchulines. It all tasted to us like no meat had before, even the condiments had a singular tang and freshness to them that we found a step-up from those we’d had earlier in the week. And it seems we were not alone in this.
Glancing up at our surroundings and fellow diners as we approached fullness, it was comforting to see that everyone else was head-down and going full-bore into their lunches too. And who could blame them? Like the irresistible song of the sirens, the evocative combination of wood-smokey atmosphere, beautiful Victorian architecture, and the surround-sound effect of wall-to-wall sizzling would surely stir the soul of any meat-lover and be ruinous to the anti-meat resolve of even the most hardcore vegetarian.
- 1lb veal sweetbreads, cleaned
- 4-6 cups water
- 4 tbsp white vinegar
- 1tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1tbsp vegetable oil
- Boil the water and add salt and vinegar
- Place sweetbreads in water and simmer gently for 12-15 minutes
- Remove from water and pat dry well.
- Slice sweetbreads into 4 large-ish chunks and season with salt and pepper
- Rub lightly with oil
- Heat your grill or barbecue to medium-high
- Wipe grate with an oiled rag
- Grill sweetbreads, turning occasionally, for 10-15 minutes, or until golden-brown and crispy on all sides
- Serve just with lemon slices or as part of a typically Uruguayan tablita parillada, or mixed grill.
Mercado del Puerto
Rambla 25 Agosto de 1825 y Perez Castellano,
Ciudad Vieja, Montevideo, Uruguay
Mercado del Puerto online
28 thoughts on “Mercado del Puerto, Montevideo, Uruguay:
The Meat Odyssey Continues”
Wow! Each dish looks more succulent and delicious than the last! What a fantastic experience you had!
I would be so happy to enjoy all of this delicious grilled meat. What a wonderful experience to be able to taste most delicious grilled food! Not sure whether or when I am going to visit Uruguay, but I am bookmarking this post. Who knows….
I knew those were sweetbreads right away…I recognize that inside “like that”!
I think I wouldn’t be able to resist that pig if you told me I was eating Babe himself!!! I want to go somewhere where I see large grills full of meat meat and more meat!
Didn’t know Montevideo was a 3-hour ferry ride from BA. It’s actually a day trip…if you don’t mind spending 6 hours commuting for parillada. I love lechon, I love bife, I love morcilla but I somehow cannot wrap my mind around sweetbreads. Great photos.
Elra – whenever you get the chance you really should go. Uruguay is, in our humble opinion, a vastly underrated country and worth every penny it costs to get you there – watch out for a future post on Uruguayan wine.
Rachel – that part of the world is full of massive grills covered in meat. Anyone who’s slightly squeamish might find such displays a bit too much, but you don’t strike me as the squeamish type!
Peter – you’ve a good eye, my friend! once you know, you just know, right?
Joan – 6 hours commuting for a meal, as a rule, is a major commitment, but for this parillada it would definitely be worth it. That said, a three-hour ferry ride home with a stomach stuffed with meat could make for some serious indigestion! Just as well we did nothing more strenuous than stroll around and then take a nap… And, honestly, sweetbreads are one of our favorites, and can be cooked in a variety of ways – they’re especially good breaded and deep-fried (a specialty of Gabrielle Hamilton at Prune. If you can eat morcilla, you can definitely eat sweetbreads. They are very mild flavored unlike a lot of organs. It’s a textural thing, really.
wow, this is eye opening!!! I still have a lot morcilla in my freezer, given from a Spanish friend from I am the only one who eat them and cannot eat much or too frequently. I did not know I could grill them. Maybe I can try…
I’ve always been fascinated by Montevideo, so your glimpse was very interesting for me. Beautiful photos!
My mother adores sweetbreads, so maybe I’ll try this for her.
we’ll have many more posts on montevideo – we absolutely love it. also, stay tuned for what we did w/ the leftover sweetbreads. that post will be coming soon!
That grilled meat looks soo good–But I am not sure about the sweetbreads–I thought they were pastries HA
Wow – they aren’t messing around with that grill! Everything looks so tasty…now I have to figure out a way to get to Uruguay.
Lord, that is one of the greatest things I have ever seen. Thanks for sharing!!
It all looks so tempting … I think I remember an epsiode of Anthony Bourdain in Uruguay and salivating just the same. I’m a fan of sweetbreads and those look perfectly grilled.
good eye, maria! anthony did spend a bit of time at the mercado del puerto on that episode. that episode is kind of a let-down to us, though. there was soooo much more about montevideo and uruguay that he didn’t even touch upon – so we’ll try to in further posts!
Great photos. I’m dying looking at that succulent meat.
Where to eat and drink in Montevideo. One of the best places to eat and drink it’s at Parrillada „La Charrette“, Address: Ayacucho 3199, Montevideo, Uruguay, firstname.lastname@example.org, +5982 486 40 83, Parrillada-Restaurant with big terrase, open every single day from 19:00 to 2.00 AM. A wonderful little romantic place for dinner in which exquisite meat and great oldies music combine in order to make a fabulous meel. Color changing wall lights help you to calm down and relax before eating. Parrillada La Charrette has a Slow Food philosophy. It‘s the first Slow Food Parrillada in Uruguay. You will share a new sensory experience. Considered by locals as one of the best Parrillada of Montevideo and one of the unknown toursist gems. The Rural-Gaucho style decoration makes the place very warm and cosy. It‘s located in a very safe and chic neighbourhood called Parque Battle (in front of a famous tree called „El Ombú de Parque Batlle“, close to the very famous Football Stadium „Estadio Centenario“. The Batlle Park is One of the largest park. His owner „Alejandro“ is very friendly and makes you feel at home. He speaks perfekt german, swiss german, french, english, italian, portuguese, and of course spanish. Certainly one of the best little Parrillada-Restaurant from Montevideo. Doubtless the only and the first Parrillada-Restaurant in whole Uruguay serving all dishes “à la minute”. In addition to this the prices are not high at all so you can eat without thinking on how much will it cost. After eating you can walk (1 km) to the next exclusive neighborhood „Pocitos“ and walk along the shore of „Pocitos Beach“, Playa Pocitos. Enjoy it: Montevideo, Uruguay, Restaurant, Parrillada, Meat, Carne Seleccionada, Chorizo, Morcilla Dulce, Morcilla Salada, Entrecôte, Pulpa, Matambrito, Pollo, Costilla de Cerdo, Asado de Tira, Ensaldas, Postres. Prof. Dr. Med. A. Sommer
Parrillada – Restaurant „La Charrette“, Ayacucho 3199, Parque Batlle, Montevideo, Uruguay
Wait, what is the big grill called again?
Shayna – it’s called a “parrilla”.
6 hour trip from ba,no big deal my family and i have travelled over 23 hours from sydney australia,just to go to EL MERCADO and its wonderfull parillada,as they say in australia,FEED THE MAN MEAT.
Hey, great representation of a fantastic cuisine and country! I just wanted to thank you for posting it. I myself was able to visit Uruguay for one month back in 2011, and had the best vacation of my life. (And I have been all over the world…) Since then I have been to Uruguay 2 more times. Both in summer and in winter. (Winter there is summertime in Norway where I am from, and hight of summer is around Christmas and January). Winter there is like a chilly norwegian summer, but with highs up to about 25-28 degrees. But summer is my favourite time there… miles and miles of beautiful beaches… fantastic friendly people… some of the best food in the world!… at a very modest costlevel. I just love the parrilla culture! I am already planning my next trip… and my retirement.. there.
@William: thanks so much for your fantastic comment! There is a very ineffable quality about the country that just begs you to return time and again. Whenever we start to reminisce about our trip, we joke about buying property there for our retirement, but even if that doesn’t happen, we’ll definitely be going back. We do our very best to bring what we can of the parrilla culture to our home whenever we can. We can’t wait until we return to Uruguay to have grilled sweatbreads again so we have to make them ourselves! Thanks again for visiting!