I will, with some amount of shame, admit to an incident that occurred in Buenos Aires about five years ago. The incident involved parrillada, the South American mixed grill of sausages, chops, short ribs, skirt steak and chicken. When I finished my order and insisted on a second one, the waiter yelled at me. He thought no one could eat a whole second order, and that my request was just wrong. The truth is, I couldn't—I had just gotten a little overexcited about all that beef.
I'm always excited by beef country, and the southern region of South America is surely that. Uruguay, where I recently spent a few days, is no exception. Uruguay's cows are less famous than their much-barbecued Argentine cousins, but that doesn't mean they're not as talented.
Before my trip to Uruguay, I was particularly looking forward to eating as many examples of the national dish—which is more or less a steak sandwich, called the chivito—as I possibly could. In truth, there is little in my philosophy to compete with a loaf of bread slathered with mayo and crammed with beef, ham, bacon, mozzarella, lettuce, tomato and egg. I was, however, a little worried that the chivito might be underrepresented in the part of Uruguay where I was headed: Punta del Este, the Riviera of South America, possibly the most luxurious vacation spot on the continent. Once a favorite of the Rat Pack, the area is now a hangout for a new generation of American movie stars, not to mention the rich and fabulous of Argentina. A resort town that's rapidly becoming known as a culinary destination does not necessarily offer many opportunities to eat cheap sandwiches. Still, I had faith in the Uruguayan people. A populace that has a steak sandwich as its national dish is to be trusted.