Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Try the Local Food: Asado Part 3 (Queso & Pan de Ajo)

Disclaimer: Due to Technical Complications Pictures will not be added to posts until further notification. As such I have decided to suspend further Food & Drink Posts as without the pictures they seem incomplete. When technical issues are resolved pictures will be added to this post and these posts will resume. Therefore, posts will become more philosophical as I feel these are interesting and require few if any pictures.

What could you possibly want at an asado besides heaps of delicious meat? Fruits or Vegetables. No not allowed you pansy. You need the only food that is even greasier queso(cheese) and something to absorb all that grease pan de ajo(garlic bread). These are the only exceptions to meat and they serve a purpose. The queso is put in a tray full of dents and then cooked over the parilla to melty-deliciousness. Sometimes it is fancied up with olives or tomatoes and some oregano or other spice. The grease dripping from the cheese gets your taste buds salivating for the meat to come. Then there is the pan de ajo(garlic bread). A baguette cut in two with olive oil and ajo(garlic) slathered between the pieces. Then they let the parilla do its magic cooking it to crusty golden perfection. Asado is excellent add queso and pan de ajo and you just made your night heaven.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Try the Local Drink: Fernet

Stay the hell away from this drink. I´m am only telling you about this, so you won´t be tricked by anyone is that says it´s not that bad. It would be like a Canadian saying the Artic isn´t that cold. Lies. This drink is made in Italy, yea I know isn´t their food & drink usually descended from the heavens. Yes, but my theory nothing is perfect holds true here. To balance the pure amazingness of every other edible morsel and smooth drink all that is horrible must have been put in one bottle called Fernet. Crazy thing is it is popular in Argentina(damn it can´t say it is only porteños fault.)and here in Uruguay.

So basically what it tastes like is someone poured the spice cabient in a bottle of alcohol and then added extra of anything that was super bitter. I don´t mind bitter, but this is impossible worse than medicine. In fact it tastes so bad it probably is the best alcohol in the world for your health. Think I am exagerating how bad it is? Even the crazy people who drink it won´t drink it without it being well-mixed with Coca Cola. Even I will take a shot of Hawkeye vodka(I imagine it is similar to gasoline in taste) before I drink this mixed. Or even tequila or Everclear. Anything but Fernet!

Friday, January 27, 2012

#30 Be American (I will Never Be Uruguayo)

I actually wrote the first part a month or more ago. I really can´t remember. Since then much has changed, but I still like the sentiment I am American this is becoming even more clear the more Uruguayo I belive I have become. Like a Uruguayo I drink mate, I cheer for a local team (Peñarol), I go to the beach as often as I can(Hard not to when it is only a 5 minute walk), I live in Montevideo(Over half the population does. It really is the center of Uruguay.), I play Futból 5, talk about porteños(Argentines from Buenos Aires known for being full of themselves and least to me and Uruguayans) derisively, own a Forlán jersey; the brazilian sandals; a Uruguayan flag(Functioning as curtains in my apartment); and the ubiquitous house shoes that everyone has, and I very much enjoy dulce de leche(especially in alfajor form) and carne(or meat, especially in asado form).

Surprisingly, my looks(white...really white, blue eyes, and apparently quite similar to James Blunt) don't distinguish me too much from Uruguayans. Yes most are more tan or darker(due to Spanish and Italian heritage), but the British presence here back in the day means the more pale of us don´t stick out. Although my first name trips them up. Side note: The British seem to have had or still have a strong influence here as many Uruguayans that speak English have a British accent. I kind of wonder what happened to the Monroe Doctrine in regards to the Southern Cone since Europe has quite a lot of influence.

Despite my habits, appearance, preferences, and possessions my mentality is distinctly and very obviously American(or Estadounidense). The main thrust of this is the individuality that Americans cherish and really need in comparison to most other cultures. I tend to believe that I am more individualistic than even the average American, but even so I think most Americans would notice the more community-oriented leanings of Uruguayans.

The basis of this is family is first where family events take priority more than I have seen in the United States. Social lives tend to revolve around the family with friends acting as strings that connect families to the other 3 million Uruguayans. I remember hearing that every person in the world is only six relationships away from anybody else. I believe in Uruguay it is more like 2 or 3. For instance, through my Spanish friends I met people that ended up being a close friend of one of the sisters in the family and another who is the cousin of the recently-married brother´s wife. It is a small world, Uruguay is exponentially smaller.

Secondly, there is a very laid-back attitude and acceptance of the way things are as the way they will always be. For instance, Uruguayans are freaking out because of recent escalation in violence and robberies. This seems to be a symptom of the 2002 economic crisis which fostered growth in pasta base(crack-like drug) and planchas(will be explained later, but basically thuggish types). However, in my view this uptick is from leave-your-door-unlocked-safe to welcome-to-the-world-remember-to-be-careful-at-night. It isn´t that bad, but to Uruguayans it seems to be on the same level as the cartel violence in Mexico, which I view as a very serious and worsening problem.

Also they are very laid-back content to lay on the beach or walk down the rambla or sit in the park with mate and watch the world go by. Or go to an Asado and chat until midnight with friends and family. Maybe it is just me, but as enjoyable as these things are at times I get bored of it. I have to be active which partly I think is the runner in me, but I think also an American doing nothing and I really mean nothing will find something to do as quickly as possible. In that I believe we are a little ADD as a culture. Uruguayans could do the same thing week in week out day after day in their free time and they seem content. As much as I have come to like the traditional tranquilo(calm or tranquil if you prefer) lifestyle every now then I need to mix-it up.

Even with their food Uruguayans eat the same things and although they are tasty they have little spice. Milanesa, Pizza, Pasta, Arroz(Rice), Ensalada(Salad), Potato Puree(Mashed Potatoes), Beef(in all forms), Tostadas(Toast), Dulce De Leche(in nearly every dessert), hamburguesa(this should be obvious), Queso(Cheese), and Chorizo(Sausage). I would say there are only a hadnful of meals that I have eaten here that were not made up of the preceding foods.

Another view I´ve noticed is they refer to themselves as third-world. Despite the fact this an out-dated term and developing is a much better description this seems to be only about 25% true. Some parts are third-world such as the Interior part of the country, living conditions in some areas, wages, and the general lack-of-quality goods and infrastructure. However, the functioning politics, economic growth(even during the global recession), security(see above), access to education and healthcare, and economic diversity put it in the first-world easily. True it is behind the U.S., Germany, France, and the UK. However, it sure as hell beats parts of Spain and Italy I saw which with the recession I'm sure are not doing any better. As for the coming powers of the 21st Century including Brazil, Russia, India, and China or the BRIC´s it is much less third-world than any of these countries although western Russia is probably close(although much colder).

Finally, geopolitics has created distinct mentalities for Uruguayans and Americans. First of all, the United States´ position as a world-power means we are very sensitive to changes in the balance of power and through means good and bad seek to manage the world in a way. Additionally, we do have a sense of entitlement for better or worse that is helped by Hollywood and American culutre permeating the world as well as the position of English as the dominate language.

Uruguay, on the other hand, is a small country that is and has historically been overwhelmed by its large neighbors especially Argentina and seems to have developed a bit of an inferiority complex even while trying to fight Argentina for a piece of the global economic pie. Also the third-world mentality creeps in here just like I believe the rest of South Americas after years of domination by Europe, the British, abd the United States.

Consequently, they look at the world differently. Americans see the world at our doorstep and ours for the taking. Uruguayans see it more as a place where the powerful seek to constantly keep them in check and as such play very much an underdog role. Most objectionably to me they fight for the idea that there are 6 continents with the Americas as only one continent.

With my need to be right and my American arrogance this simply is not true there are 7. One reason is the U.S. and interestingly enough China believe there are 7 and they are the most powerful countries in the world, so the South American view really doesn´t matter. Also we are way to culturally different in which the U.S. has dominated North America and Central America(not a continent, but part of North America just like the Mid East is part of Asia) while South American has more or less done its own thing(like fighting the dominance of the U.S. and Western Europe) since achieving independence from Spain and Portugal.

Even getting my cedula, improving my futból skills, perfecting my Spanish, or even living here longer won´t change the fact I´m not Uruguayo. I am Rian ¨Madafaca¨ Clark Kent, the James Blunt of Uruguay, and the Shankee. Perhaps I´ve become American-Uruguayo by realizing I will never be Uruguayo or maybe I'm just an arrogant American...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

#30 Be American(Stuck in Limbo)

I hate to use the terrible cliché of the Wizard of Oz it is too easy and it is over used, but it applies so well that to not would be forsaking a great story on principle not mention my Kansas heritage.

She must have felt strange in that world totally different from hers. I haven't talked to an American since the second week I've been here and they were old, retirement age old, they might as well have been foreigners. Ones my age, I saw them in Colonia del Sacremento.

However, their tendency to travel in packs with a cacophony of English swirling about them made me wince. I didn't want to talk to them they ruined the tranquility of Colonia. Maybe it is my nature maybe I should have talked to them. However, my rationalization was that these kids (despite being my own age) were being ferried around by chaperones.

They didn't understand how to really see a place. In my mind, they were likely more preoccupied with what bar they would go to that night. I've done that I remember it fondly I'm just a few steps ahead of them. Maybe they could have taught me to open up more, but I let it slip. I left there and found a beautiful beach that I had almost to myself I enjoyed it thoroughly.

We were on two different sides of the same spectrum that hundreds of travelers curse. They the ones that couldn't care a bit for local culture and me, perhaps smugly, hanging only with locals denying my American upbringing. A balance between the two is best, but does anyone ever really achieve this?

The people I've met have been Uruguayan, Argentinian, Spanish, Italian, Irish, French, Canadian, German, but no Americans my age are here or at least I have yet to find them. These people are great and I enjoy hanging out with them a lot. Despite the many similarities among countries Western Culture they don't understand fully. They don't really know about Kansas City or Kansas. When they ask about the weather or how far something is they don't have to do the quick conversion to Celsius or to kilometers. I don't even know if I am right, I just hope I calculated it closely enough.

Americans are stubbornly different from the rest of the world and I am one, or so says my passport. However, I feel more at home outside our country despite the difficulties and living with less I am content maybe even happy. Maybe this will change, maybe I could have been happy in America. However, here it comes with ease there it takes work to be different. Relaxing outside without TV, stressing little, and not being over-worked are parts of life that are just harder to do within American culture. They can be done, but the crowd is not doing that so you swim against the current.

In trying to not deny where I am from I try to allow myself to make mistakes. To anyone on the street I am Uruguayan...until I open my mouth. I become the foreigner. My first bus ride I had no idea where I was going in shaky Spanish I told him "Plaza Matriz". The cashier perched in his seat leaned over to the driver and whispered, "Un extranjero" I was the foreigner.

With my primarily Spanish expat friends the difference is less stark. I can throw out the th-th-th lisp, but even to them I am something foreign. Even the one who was in the desert of Arizona studying for a year. He saw the American highlights, Kansas City and Ames are not on that list. I don't know about Las Vegas, Miami, New York, Los Angeles, and very little of Chicago. Just like most foreigners I have only seem them in the movies and on TV.

The people I have met are interesting, fun, and incredibly nice. I'm glad to have met all of them, but nevertheless a gap exists. I like, maybe even love, Uruguay, but I exist in that strange no-man's-land between native and foreigner as well as traveler and expat.

I've only experienced this before in the transition to college from high school. I belonged to both, but was a part of neither. This faded with time...slowly. Tick...tock......tick......tock......

Monday, January 23, 2012

#29 Crash a Wedding

No I didn't crash a wedding I went to one of the guys in the family's wedding, but the title is a hell of a lot more interesting than ¨Went to a Wedding¨ and like the Wedding Crashers I knew next to no one at this 500 person party. You know it is going to be a crazy night when the wedding starts at 9:30 PM, only lots of drinking, dancing, partying, and craziness happen after that hour. An so it did.

The Wedding was a pretty standard church wedding. Very formal and in a very beautiful church the Iglesia Carmelitas(see below). However, people don´t crash weddings to go to a church they crash them to go to a great party... We rolled up to Chacra San Jose(from what I understand a Chacra is a house in the country built to host parties.). Torches lit the way up the drive with a very luxurious looking house surrounded by palms and a white tent that was equally as large as the house protruding to the right into the manicured lawn. I felt like I had just entered a Beverly Hills party it was incredible and then we parked in the grave lot, yep still in Uruguay.

Guest list and everything. Despite being invited I wasn´t on it and for the better the poor Uruguayans really have trouble with my name. Ryan sin(without) B. Rian? No Ryan. Anyways for 500 people there were obviously many tables white table cloths nice plates and all as you would expect. As people streamed in, a small army(50 or so) waiters darted around with trays of Strawberry and Peach cocktails. People mingled as we found the cousins of the family and created the 3 table cluster for the younger generation(mine).

While we were talking people started congregating towards the dance floor. The couples first dance; the waltz. I watched as I had discovered a few days previously my feet are not meant for lateral movement unless crushed feet are needed. I am a runner after all I only go forward. Anyways afterwards the first plates arrived as servers streamed between the kitchen and the table-filled kitchen. Salad, oh well it would do for now.

Suddenly it started. Party-time! The groom danced with the bride in the while the crowd circled and watched. Then his friends and the brothers in the family moved in. What happened next I can only describe as dancing rugby. A mass of guys in huddle form jumped around like in a huddle and the giant mass moved around the open space in the circle like a spinning top. It looked to fun not to join, so I dove in. Making such a quick decision I didn´t understand I had just joined in a new sport. Trying to keep your arms intertwined while jumping, not getting trampled, and whirling around a crowded room with 15 other guys is in all reality a sport. I think this is how guys dance. It is brutally physical, competitive(who can stay the longest), and a lot of fun. We just aren´t as graceful as the female gender, but as one person remarked afterwards, (Translated)¨Better they dance than drink¨. I occasionly ducked out for a glass of whisky and to feel to the coolness of the night soothe my overheating body. Then back into the fray.

This stopped when the main plate came out a piece of chicken with sweet potato and a creamy sauce. Nothing spectacular, but it absorbed alcohol and provided energy to continue the dance party. And so we did. More dancing this time it was a bit more normal although the bride and groom were put on shoulders and danced above the crowd as well as as on top of a table lifted and rotated by the young men of the party. Costumes arrived and with them more fun as everyone began dancing. It was really a marathon of dancing that I had no trained for. Exhilirating and Exhausting.

Dessert arrived at large tables. It was excellent little finger sandwich size cakes and custards in little shot glasses. Afterwards only a few of the hardcore remained to dance a little longer and around 6 AM the family robbed every centerpiece of its flowers to take back to the house. I have no idea why we didn´t grab the leftover desserts. A short car ride back to the house and we fell asleep after unloading our prize flowers. I woke up the next day with my shoulders sore as hell and my legs know the night before was epic when that happens...A Uruguayan Wedding the Party to end all Parties.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

#28 Go to a Civil Union

No I didn´t go to a gay wedding although that is legal here in Uruguay just like Iowa.Background note: People here don´t generally move out of their parents´ house until they get married, so the wedding is kind of a big deal. However, to see a marriage by judge is an opportunity I couldn´t pass up. In the U.S. it seems like the paper work is filled out behind-the-scenes, here it is another part of the celebration.

On that partly cloudy the whole family packed into cars to the Ciudad Vieja to go the Government building where the couple would be legally married. After waiting a while, this is Uruguay after all, we cramped ourselves into a small room with a desk and the flags at the front. This family is rather large so the room probably normally isn´t this packed, but regardless it was tiny and drab perfect for a government office.

Anyways, it seemed like a run through of the wedding without all the pomp and customs of a typical one. The judge was the priest reciting the do you agree? and do you agree? and stating why this was important for the state rather than God. The parallels were interesting enough. Everyone clapped and congratulated them. When people say they want a simple wedding they are lying because this was a simple wedding. It was interesting, but for something as big as a wedding it is like doing only the rehersal dinner not quite satisfying at least in my opinion. Thankfully, they did have an actual church wedding and of course the reception which was incredible, but that is another post.

Everyone hurried down the stairs and out onto the touristy Peatonal Sarandi. There handfuls of rice were hurriedly distributed. You can guess what happened next. I felt bad for the ladies that had to clean that up in the rain afterwards because there was so much. however, there was a small get-together back at the house, so I didn´t think about it too much plus the wedding was in a couple days. The wedding post will be coming shortly.

Try the Local Food: Asado Part 2 (Cortillas)

This is the main event at almost every Asado although there are other sides that I will mention in Part 3. The Cortillas or Ribs are usually cooked last as they generally cook enough of them to put you into a meat coma. No Joke. You think you are a carnivore you won't be able to eat anymore of the delicious carne no matter who you are.

Yep! They Don´t Mess Around.

Why is it so damn delicous and why is there so damn much? La parilla(the grill). first off it is gigantic and really is more an altar used to cook meat than the pithy offering to the meat gods the grills in the U.S. are. They are huge and thus anyobody can cook like a restaurant which means a bunch. In fact I heard a story that the family´s asado once got mistaken for a nearby restaurant because there were so many people and a ton of smoke from the parilla. Also they don´t go hard on seasonings salt and oil are about it unless they go adventurous and throw some chimicurri on those prime pieces of beef. They let the beef do the come hither seduction which it does with ease. Finally, they use wood to cook it just like the best BBQ joints, which for the record are in KC not Texas or Memphis.

Wait those don´t look like ribs to you? Son sit down. They cut them across the bone so you get 4 oval shaped bones in your meat. This A. reduces a already long cooking time and B. puts a little class in stuffing-meat-down-your-throat-consumption. This is how meat is supposed to be cooked I would just add a bit of KC Masterpiece and go to meat heaven.

Next week: No Vegetables allowed! Asado's other delicous components.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Try the Local Drink: Limonjito

Ok technically not a local drink. But a Chevy Del Campo and Ryan Clark original drink that will become the next big craze. I´m waiting to hear from Bacardi(or more likely I´m dreaming). Like all great drinks it is created by people who have enjoy a good drink, got bored, and improvised a new alcholic beverage. Basically, we had a Cuban themed night where with another friend we cooked a Cuban dish consisting of rice, ground beef, fried potatoes, onions, red peppers, parsley, and tomato sauce.

Without a good drink a good meal is just food. So we also made Mojitos consisting of Rum, Sugar, Mint leaves, Tonic, and Lime as you should know. We actually had some leftover because we used vodka for some of them.

Note: The photo below is of Mojitos. The Limnojito is very elusive beast and thus no photos
Anyways after arriving back in Montevideo after a wonderful weekend in Pinar during the car ride back we remembered we had some rum left! However, we had no tonic water, sprite, or anything to dilute the Rum except water(not an appealing choice). Or so we thought then we spotted that large bottle of limoncello. Yes! We mashed the mint leaves, sugar, and limes; added the rum; tipped a generous portion of limoncello into the glass; and finally added a splash of flavored carbonated water.

Ahhhhh! A potent, very strong, yet delicious new alcholic drink was born. If Barcardi starts developing this I want royalties. Word of Warning: This is very strong drink use caution. Coupled with being very tired and a couple of glasses of limnojito you may fall asleep in some strange places. Drink Responsibly! Don´t Drink & Drive!

The Above Picture is a Re-creation of a place I fell asleep after a couple limonjitos. I was also extremely tired

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Try the Local Food: Asado Part 1 (Chorizo/Morcilla)

The meat in Uruguay will make Carnivores eyes open wide and mouths drool. The ultimate expression of Uruguayan´s love affair with everything cow is when they gather with family & friends to worship at the alter of asado: la parilla. Every house that can has one or as is the case in the house I am at two! Here they drink wine, coke, or whiskey and eat cheese and most importantly meat until they can´t anymore. Platters of meat make the rounds as people put down as much as humanly possible. My best guess is an average adult male Uruguayan at an asado consumes 1.5 kilos of meat or 3.3 lbs.

The first meats typically served are different types of Chorizo. Much less spicy than Mexican sausage and more similar to German Bratwurst. Then comes the thick, pasty textured Morcilla or blood-sausage. The consistency is similar to mashed potatoes so not everyone is a fan of it, but I am a big fan of it. Stay tuned next wednesday for the main part of a traditional asado.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

#27 Actually Make a Change for New Year´s

Welcome to 2012! Yea I know it is late by New Year started to day despite the fact I´ve been wrting 2012 for 10 days now. Why the 10th of January? Well I have reached a couple of milestones and have begun a new change.

My Apartment Building

First of all today I signed my contract for my new apartment. A nine-month deposit of roughly $3000 and many many money transfers and papers signed and I finally own the keys to an apartment in an amazing location here in Montevideo and most importantly for a good price. Why is the location so great? Within five minutes I can be at the Playa Ramirez a beach, Parque Rodó one of three large city parks, 2 of Montevideo´s best clubs, a carnival like amusement park, a decent sized soccer stadium for Defensor Sporting club, and MERCOSUR South America´s EU wanna-be. On top of all that it is exactly between Downtown(Centro and Ciudad Vieja), the newer ritzy area (Pocitos and Punta Carretas), and Tres Cruces where Estadio Centenario and the Bus Station are located.

Amusement Park(VAT Clubs on left)

I´ve also reached two milestones the three-month mark and I have officialy been out of the U.S. for longer than I ever have. That beats the previous holder Spain where my zest for World Travel exploded into an obsession. In these three month I have done so much. I´ve watched the biggest soccer game in Uruguay, picked my team, been to Colonia, worked in José Ignacio, attended a wedding, celebrated Christmas; New Year´s; and Dia de los Reyes, relaxed at the beach in Pinar, got a job with Berlitz, played Monday Night Fútbol, seen the underground music scene, ate and drank the best and worst Uruguay has to offer, met incredible and interesting people of all types, gotten back into respectable shape, fought Uruguayan bureaucracy(a continuing battle), drank mate, ridden many types of transportation, and listened to local music like Cuarteto de Nos y No Te Va Gustar. All the while gaining a deep appreciation and understanding of Uruguayan Culture.


There is something magical about the three-month mark you suddenly feel like you belong, you know what you are doing, you can speak and understand with few problems, and you ¨get¨ the country. In Spain I left just as I reached that point and I knew I had to go back. I still do. For me those times when it feels like you have finally arrived are the best and personally in Spain and here in Uruguay were and are the happiest I´ve been. I still want to go back to Spain and Italy, see New Zealand and Turkey, and explore the rest of South America especially Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. However, if you asked me where I would be right now if I could be anywhere in the world I would be at the beach house in Pinar(40 minutes from Montevideo) enjoying life Uruguayan-style I wouldn´t want to be anywhere else and in that I feel so fortunate.

Playa Ramirez

So what do you have to look forward from me this New Year? As you´ve seen above there are a few things that happened in December I haven´t written about yet including: A Uruguayan Wedding-The Party of Your Life, Navidad Down South-Food, Fireworks, Friends, and Family, Paradise in Pinar-It´s Not just a Beach, Dia de los Reyes-Christmas Comes Twice, Working for the Wealthy-A Waiter´s View of THE Party of the Summer. Additionally, the Residency Process continues and the Local Food & Drink posts continue. I know I´ve been a tease by not writing about Asado, but trust me the wait is oh so worth it.

Defensor Sporting Club Soccer Stadium

So what new things to look for in 2012?
Carnival in Montevideo-Like Distance Runners it goes Longer than Anyone(40 days)
Ai Se Eu Te Pego- I will be learning Portuguese so I can say more than the lyrics to that god awful song
Cabo Polonia- I really want to go there, but we will see if that happens
Buenos Aires- I am going to see if BsAs is all it is cracked up to be by every other traveler and if proteños really are that vain and stuck-up LA type us Uruguayos(or Shankee-Uruguayos) think they are.
Parque Rodó-Life on my Own in the Heart of Montevideo

Parque Rodó

There are a few others that will pop-up, but life needs surprises to make it worthwhile. Hope you are having a good 2012 and get out there and do something you´ve always wanted to do before the World Ends. (Damn those Mayans!)