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It’s honestly hard to say whether it’s easy to eat gluten-free in Uruguay. That’s because although the national cuisine can only be described as “Meat’n’Wheat”, gluten-free products are often easier to find in Uruguayan shops than in the UK.
In this post, I’m going to do my best to explain the positives and struggles of try to eat gluten-free in Uruguay.
Gluten-free in Uruguay supermarkets
Take Cabo Polonio, above, for example. A tiny town; off-grid, with most people still living without running water or electricity, and only accessible by a 4×4 through the sand-dunes. There is only one ‘supermarket’, a small shack that I doubt has changed inside since the 1920s. This shop only operates for a few select hours a day, and the shelves are hardly stocked with delicacies.
However, they’ve still managed to keep a fair stock of safe-to-eat items, namely GF pasta. In more developed places, it’s the norm to see a whole section dedicated to gluten-free in Uruguay, even in a tiny corner-shop.
Eating out gluten-free in Uruguay
Although cooking for ourselves at the hostel has been fine, I’ve admittedly been really bad with keeping GF when we’re out and about, and I’m at the beginning of what feels like a big eczema flare to come. As always though, I feel my condition gives me the perverse luxury of being able to choose what is worth a flare and what isn’t, and boy have those empanadas been worth it!
Eating out gluten-free in Uruguay is fairly difficult. Most of Uruguay’s common dishes contain either bread or pastry. Think empanadas, milanesas (breaded steaks) and chivitos (8-layered sandwiches), all accompanied by bread and oil for starters and a flan for dessert. The chivito is normally also offered ‘a la plancha’, i.e. without the bread, but this is bafflingly always the more expensive option because they ply you with chips instead.
If you become bored of thin, well-done steak and chips (they never ask you how you like your steak here), your best bet in restaurants is probably a rice dish, although there is of course the risk of flour being used to thicken sauces. Luckily, it seems that people do understand the concept of gluten-free in Uruguay, so asking before you sit down in a restaurant should be fine, just be prepared that you may have to trek around a little (pssst, the word for wheat is ‘trigo’, but ‘sin gluten’ is all you really need to know).
On a side note, Uruguay doesn’t have quite the same (if any) obsession with healthy foods (to be honest it’s quite satisfying to see that Uruguayans treat GF as a legitimate health need rather than a healthy lifestyle choice as it is often positioned in the UK), so don’t expect any vegetables with any of your meals unless you buy them as a separate dish – if the restaurant you’re at even has them on the menu.
Vegetables and fruits are relatively expensive in shops, and we’ve yet to find evidence of any concept similar to 5-a-day. In fact, I would venture that it’s harder to be a veggie than to be gluten-free in Uruguay.
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