One of the most iconic and traditional aspects of Uruguayan culture surrounds the event of the asado, the delicious barbecue that gathers family and friends around hot embers and sizzling cuts of meat.* Cooked slowly over hot embers for up to two hours, the time for the meat to be ready allows for everyone to snack on peanuts and other morsels, drink beer, wine, or some soda, and enjoy good conversations and company.
Argentina, Chile, and Paraguay, all have variations to the preparation of the asado; one difference being that Uruguayans cook from embers of collected wood, whereas in Argentina, charcoal coals are purchased for use (although I am sure there are families or restaurants that create their own coals).
*Vegetarians arriving in many areas of South America will encounter meat in many places frequently, but do not need to worry, as there are plenty of vegetarian options available wherever you go - just come prepared for surprised expressions when someone discovers you do not eat meat.
A day or two after our arrival in the winery region of Canelones, at the beautiful Chacrita del Sur, we were treated to this wonderful ceremony, with the warmest company of people. Prepared and cooked by Sole and Fede's daughter Vale, myself and Anthony were very curious of the process and the care involved.
We snacked on peanuts, delicious avocado and lemon guacamole with crackers, and homemade lemonade, while smoke curled around us, and the wonderful crackling sound of the fire created that lovely camp-fire environment where stories are shared, and bonds are formed.
Smaller twigs gave way to thicker and larger branches and logs, to build up the warmth and the formation of large embers, which were then brushed under a wire rack where the meat lay waiting; the heat given off from the glowing coals slowly cooked the selection of steak, ribs, and chorizo sausages to perfection.
Once cooked, everything was placed in a communal tray from which we helped ourselves to as we ate together, with a hearty salad to accompany the charred flavours, and a large glass of tannat wine (a wine special to Uruguay) to complete it.
Traditionally, after everyone has had their first taste of the asado, a round of applause is given to the cook if it is a good, and then everyone begins the meal. I cannot imagine a circumstance where the group does not offer appreciation... can you picture that scene? It would be incredibly awkward.
If you love meat, and you love community around food, South America is a good place to enjoy the best of both worlds; everyone so far that we have met has an incredible connection and love for their close - and extended - family and friends. It's a truly wonderful atmosphere to be around. Homesickness throws a punch or two in situations like these.
I will share more photos soon of further asados that Anthony and I enjoyed (and even prepared ourselves!), as with each event there is a different group of people, a different environment, and a different experience altogether with the process of cooking.