We are now in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay and our quest to find the authentic food specialities continues to surprise us. One of the things we are still learning on this journey is to be flexible and “go with the flow.” This mantra serves us well especially when we run into serendipitous moments.
Let’s take the focus of this post as an example. In the food space, Montevideo farmers markets are famous for food lovers and two in particular; Mercado Del Puerto and Mercado Agricola De Montevideo. To help us get oriented around local foods including what’s in season, we always make it a point to visit the farmers markets to get an overview. As such, these two Montevideo farmers markets were high on our “must-visit” list.
So, back to the title and what does 20 minutes with the Vice- President of Uruguay have to do with Montevideo farmers markets?
A little background first. The Palacio Legislativo (Legislative Palace) located on Av. de las Leyes in Montevideo, is where the Uruguayan parliament meets. It is an impressive building that was started in 1904 under the presidency of José Batlle y Ordoñez and was declared a National Historical Monument in 1975.
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Meeting the Vice-President of Uruguay
This neoclassical building caught our attention on the way from one of Montevideo farmers market and we were intrigued to check it out. Once we got the building and started making our way to the top of the steps and we realized that there was an event taking place. As we approached the top, we were approached by a gentleman who looked like he was from security and asked us if we needed something. As we responded, he quickly realized we were not local and he relaxed and became much more friendly.
After making small talk for a little bit, he then explained that the Vice President was in the building and giving a press conference marking the celebration of “30 Years of Democracy in Uruguay”. He asked us if we were interested in listening in and we jumped at the opportunity to see the Raul Sendic, Vice President of Uruguay live. After shutting off our phones and putting our cameras away (yes, that’s all the security procedures we went through) we were ushered into a beautiful room lined with incredible tile, several feet high. This was a small intimate setting with about 45 people including journalists and various TV stations present to capture the Vice President’s remarks.
The celebrations started off with a short video that harkened back to the dictatorship period (1973-1985) and the progress the country has achieved post democracy. The whole experience was surreal and fascinating at the same time. Just before the Vice President started to speak, we snuck out of the room to avoid the likely lengthy political speeches. What an incredible experience. This experience happened on our way back for the Mercado Agricola de Montevideo farmers market.
Mercado Agricola de Montevideo
The Mercado Agricola de Montevideo (Agricultural Market) is an attraction and has been described as a foodie center. Located north of the city, at José L. Terra 2220, it took us about 20 minutes to get there by bus. Having had a disappointing experience at the Mercado del Puerto which we detail below, we were eager to see a more traditional market with fruits, veggies and meats.
We were struck when we arrived at the market by its sheer size and the early 20th century architecture. Once we walked through the doors, the cleanliness of the place also surprised us. It felt a little too sanitized, the type of market that you might find in a high-end neighborhood in any major city. This market is not located in a particularly high-end area and so the contrast was somewhat unexpected.
Visiting the more than 100 vendors, including speciality food stores and restaurants was quite exciting. We found clean stalls, large selections of fruits and vegetables and organic stores. There were also a fresh seafood vendor as well as a butcher selling incredibly fresh seafood and thick cuts of beef. The pictures below give you a sense of the market.
Our recommendation is to visit this market when there is one of the many events schedule at the end of the week. For example, this weekend, there are were events related to the Festival del Tango currently taking place in Uruguay. You can make this market your place to buy vegetables or enjoy a meal at one of the many restaurant options.
The market is clean and spotless and the selection is quite large. We spotted an ice-cream place that sells local specialty flavors such as Tannat wine flavor and Yerba Mate flavor and other typical favorites. Though we did not indulge, it is probably a great place to get some helados on your market visit.
Mercado Del Puerto
Market only by name, this Montevideo classic and former old port market building (built in 1868) outside bears the familiar markings of a tourist trap. It is located on la Rambla 25 de Agosto de 1825 in la Ciudad Vieja. The market is made up of a pavilion of restaurants and vendors selling Uruguayan crafts. Inside the Mercado Del Puerto, the restaurants are dedicated to selling meat. There are parilla restaurants all sharing the common elements of open fires with varied cuts of steaks,meats and sausages cooking tenderly to perfection.
We were quite surprised when we arrived because we were expecting a more traditional farmers market, the type of place where you can eat as well buy vegetables and fruit. This was not the case at all. We talked to one of the restaurant host at one of the parillas and he told us that apparently the mercado stopped functioning as a traditional farmers market back in the 1970s and has today become a venue with about 13 functioning restaurants. As we walked around the market, it felt too touristy with all the expected clues such as menus in English, ability to pay in multiple currencies and restaurant staff fighting for your attention while pushing their menu in your face. Far from the charm we expected.
However, since we had made it to the market, we decided to eat at one the parillas, El Palenque where we could seat around the asado and try one of the local specialities – morcilla dulces (sweet blood sausages).
This morcilla dulce, different from the ones in Argentina are made with sugar, raisins and ground nutmeg to give them their sweet taste. We like blood sausages and particularly enjoy the ones in France, which typically have apple called boudin noir (blood sausage). So, we waited eagerly anticipating a sweet and familiar taste. We were quite surprised when we bit into the sausage. These sausages were really sweet. The caramelized sugar on the sausages combined with the raisins and nutmeg, made them taste almost like dessert. Yes, blood sausages as dessert…it is definitely possible!
There are several farmers markets in Montevideo and they each serve a distinct purpose. In the Pocitos neighborhood where we are staying, there are markets almost every morning. Streets are closed and vendors selling vegetables, fruit, cheese and meats. A great solution for your everyday needs. The Mercado Agricola De Montevideo is more of an experience and is to be enjoyed leisurely and also a place to take in a show or live event. When the carnivore in you strikes and demands attention, visit the Mercado Del Puerto and choose a parilla from the 13 restaurants or so that will be competing for your appetite and wallet. Align your expectations with the market experience you are seeking and plan to have a great time.
Look for more on our next posts about our adventures finding local specialties from Uruguay.
Rosemary is a writer, culinary explorer, and digital nomad. Together with her partner, Claire, they created Authentic Food Quest to help people find the best local food on their travels. For over 5 years they have eaten their way through South America, Southeast Asia, Europe, and North America while sharing the best local food experiences on their website. Authentic Food Quest has been featured on top publications such as Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Honest Cooking. Rosemary and Claire are also authors of Authentic Food Quest Argentina and Authentic Food Quest Peru, available on Amazon. Prior to creating Authentic Food Quest, Rosemary worked as a strategy director in advertising for over 15 years.