The Food City Anthony Bourdain Thought Was Severely Underrated

Anthony Bourdain was a trustworthy source when it came to global cuisine, largely because he visited over 80 countries in his lifetime, with a significant focus on exploring local foods. Among his favorite places from a culinary perspective were Tokyo, San Sebastian, Lyon, and Rome, all of which are almost universally praised for their exquisite cuisine. However, he believed Uruguay — more specifically, its capital city, Montevideo — was underappreciated for its food.

Nestled between the giant countries of Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay's Montevideo is a seaside city at the country's southernmost tip. Overlooking the South Atlantic Ocean, Montevideo is a charming place, peppered with palm trees, gorgeous architecture, and plenty of sunshine. In a 2018 interview with National Geographic, Bourdain expressed his belief that Montevideo remained largely undiscovered by travelers. "It's a very laid-back place," he remarked, noting, "The people are really nice, the beaches are incredible, and there's great food. Tough country for vegetarians, though."

There's more meat than seafood in the seaside city

Indeed, Montevideo's cuisine is surprisingly meat-centric, especially given its proximity to the ocean. While the city's approximately 1.5 million residents and annual tourists do enjoy a variety of seafood, it's the meat dishes that garnered significant attention, particularly from Anthony Bourdain. During his visits to the capital city in 2008 while filming "No Reservations," and in 2018 for "Parts Unknown," Bourdain was effusive in his praise for chivito, considered the national sandwich of Uruguay. He compared this dish favorably to cheesesteaks and Reuben sandwiches, suggesting they paled in comparison, and likened chivito to the Titanic and Mt. Everest.

Chivito sandwiches, brimming with thin, grilled steak, ham, bacon, cheese, hard-boiled egg, mayonnaise, and a variety of toppings like chopped olives, epitomize the kind of food Bourdain loved. During his Montevideo travels, he also eagerly sampled parrillada, or Uruguayan barbecue, which includes a range of meats from pork to lamb to sausages; choripán, a simple yet tasty sausage and bread sandwich; and pizza on a chickpea flatbread known as fainá.

Montevideo's love for meat

Cuisine in Montevideo, Uruguay, is undeniably centered around meat, but the dishes are heavily influenced by Spanish and Italian immigrant cuisine. Following World War II, there was a significant push for leather production in the small country, which ultimately led to increased demand for beef. Only recently has the city begun to explore and embrace its abundant seafood supply, which is essentially just outside its front door. However, meat remains predominant in the capital, pairing excellently with another of Uruguay's significant resources: wine. The tannat grape is particularly favored for creating rich, bold wines that pair wonderfully with grilled meats, although the country also produces delightful whites like albariño and Chardonnay.

During his visits to Montevideo and his numerous meat-centric meals, Anthony Bourdain also managed to find room in his stomach to feast on tuco (similar to ragu alla Genovese) over handmade tagliatelle, prawns (distinct from shrimp), and salt-baked fish. Bourdain never hesitated to express his fondness for animal protein, so it's no wonder Montevideo was a dream destination for him. However, to illustrate the city's meat-centric culture, he confessed to Condé Nast Traveler, "Last time I was here I have to admit that after about six days I would've killed someone for a vegetable." That's a big admission for the beloved chef.