6 Quintessential Uruguayan Traditions To Know

From mate to football, here are the six most quintessential Uruguayan traditions to expect when visiting the country.

Known as South America’s hot spot, Uruguay is a beautiful country despite being unheard of by many. Being an uncommon destination, a certain sense of escapade emanates from visiting this jewel, but it can also be stressful if you are not well-prepared. Customs that have been around for a long period of time are engrained in society and part of everyday life so be ready to witness them! Here is a list of the most quintessential customs you may find when visiting La Celeste!

1. Sharing a mate

Yerba Mate uruguayan traditions
Yerba Mate. Image by Federico Lubo Millán from Pixabay

This is the most emblematic custom in Uruguay as it goes back before colonialism, to the Guarani Indians using it for its energizing properties. Bitter and intense, the mate is a drink infused with yerba mate – a mixture of dehydrated leaves from a bush found in Paraguay. It is then drunk in a round leather cup with a metal straw. When visiting the country, you will see locals enjoying a hot (or cold) mate at all hours of the day. Even though it is popular in most South American countries, Uruguayans are the ones who consume the most, as more than 85% of the population drinks it daily. Sharing a mate is synonymous with friendship and it is said that when you share a mate, you share a confession. It is also believed to boosts one’s metabolic rate and immunity, so why not try this mixture the next time you get a cold!?

2. Experience an asado

asado
Photo by Rafael Hoyos Weht on Unsplash

You may think it is just an ordinary barbecue but no! Asado is a whole tradition and a great experience for first timers. An asado usually takes place at an event, between close friends or family and is always equates to a good time. It is a fairly simple tradition: get food, grill it, and enjoy! It all starts with melted cheese, various vegetables, and achuras (traditional beef organs.) You can also cook other meats, like chicken and pork upon gentle heat. Among the guests, there is always the Asador – the one in charge of the food. Combining social interaction and a great meal, the asado is a custom dating back to Argentina’s colonization, and the most delectable tradition yet!

3. Play football

Children playing football uruguayan traditions
Children playing football. Photo by Greta Schölderle Møller on Unsplash

Winner of two World Cups and having one of the most successful teams in South America, it is no wonder that football is Uruguay’s pride. Being a small country with a small population, it comes as no surprise that football is such a national obsession. Besides from attending every match, it is common for locals to participate in recreational football leagues. When visiting this country, you will definitely see games being played everywhere, including: on the streets.

4. Tango your way into Uruguay’s heart

tango
Photo by Toufic Mobarak on Unsplash

Even though Argentina gets the spotlight for this dance, tango actually evolved in both countries. There are two types of tango: the romantic popular one and the original heavier one (a slower, less popular version often considered as the original dance.) You can experience both in Uruguay. Originating from poorer areas in the capital – Montevideo – around 1880, this dance is central and very important to Uruguay’s musical tradition. Created in 1919, La Cumparsita is one of the most famous tango songs and was written by Gerardo Matos Rodriguez in Montevideo. On the anniversary of this song, a weekend-long celebration is held in its honor. Moreover, a big tango party is organized during every New Year in the famous neighborhood of Cordón and everyone is invited to join or watch the traditional dance, so plan your trip carefully!

5. Shop in street markets

Feria De Tristán Narvaja uruguayan traditions
Feria De Tristán Narvaja. FACEBOOK Lucia Perez Fotografia

Uruguay is a unique country that has created its own traditions, norms, and way of life. One of the most typical Uruguayan traditions is to shop at the numerous colorful street markets. The biggest one is the Feria De Tristán Narvaja, which is held every Sunday in the Cordón district. Locals and tourists alike shop there for food, antiques, and artisanal products. If you wish to shop and dine, then head to Mercado del Puerto, which is located near Montevideo’s harbor. Built in the 1860s, this market was originally known for selling fruits and vegetables. But today, it is filled with intimate restaurants that offer traditional dishes. Want to bring back hand-made typical Uruguayan gifts? Mercado de los Artesanos is the ideal market for you. We recommend going to Plaza Cagancha for a large selection of handcrafts and typical food, such as: Uruguayan parilla.

6. Eat the good luck gnocchi!

Gnocchi uruguayan traditions
Photo by Gábor Molnár on Unsplash

The 29th of each month in Uruguay, is El Dia de Ñoquis or The Gnocchi Day in English. This tradition is still alive and very much respected in the country as most families get together on the Sunday following the day and eat gnocchi with sauce. The custom dates back to the 19th century on the 29th, just before payday. At the end of each month, the majority of pantries were either empty or filled with potatoes and flour, so gnocchi were the perfect solution as they filled stomachs and did not empty wallets. El Dia de Ñoquis is a family tradition where gnocchi recipes are passed down from generation to generation, to keep the custom alive.

Eve McGuardian

Contributor

Eve was born and raised in NYC and later on, moved to Paris. She grew up in an international home and is fluent in both French and English. Every chance she gets, she travels; either to discover a new culture or as a volunteer in an organization. The most memorable cities she has been to are: Ischia, a little island off the coast of Naples for the people, Istanbul for the culture, and Paris for the architecture.

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