It’s a dark and chilly August winter night in Montevideo. We’ve just put our bags down in an odd, skinny little hotel after a long bus ride; it’s late and we’re hungry. Uruguay was never, not in my wildest dreams, a place I thought I’d visit. To be honest, it was a country to which I never really gave much thought. If I had, I’d probably imagine it to be some sort of wild, unsophisticated, poverty-stricken land. Alas, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Montevideo is a strange place; it feels grey and veiled, like a city from the past or in a black and white film. There’s a sense that behind this smoky layer lives a city which has discovered something great about things we’ve long since tossed, and finds meaning in things that we’ve overlooked. It feels anything but unsophisticated. I’m almost certain I should have packed a trench coat and cigarette holder.
There’s no question tonight about where we’re going and what we’re eating. We’ve come especially to Montevideo for this: La Pasiva and their chivito.
I’ve absolutely no idea what I’m in for, but Martin promises me I want one. He orders the regular steak chivitio, and I order chicken thinking it will be healthier. When our chivitos arrive I recognize immediately that I’ve made a mistake. Not because mine is or isn’t of superior nutritional value, but because chivitio is chivito for a reason, and it simply shouldn’t be messed with.
All that needs be said is that the chivito is the sandwich to end all sandwiches. From this point on, either chivitios should belong to a different category, or sandwiches need not be calling themselves sandwiches.
The chivito starts with a white roll, soft and not too thick with the perfect amount of chewy/crunchy crust. The roll can best be described as handles desperately attempting, yet faultlessly incapable of containing the insides. Housed between breaded ceiling and floor is lettuce, tomato, hard boiled egg, peppers, some melted cheese, a layer of ham, another of bacon, possibly some more cheese, could be more tomato, a whole lot of creamy mayo, green olives, and I think I might have missed the hearts of palm. At the nucleus of what to most of us would appear an already sufficient meal rests a beautiful, thin filet mignon. Our chivitos are served with fries and a generous side of napkins. You would be crazy not to wash it down with beer.
As you can see, my chicken vs. filet blunder makes virtually no caloric difference.
The chivito, not unlike this unpretentious, mysterious city, is something to experience. I wonder how it’s possible to have so much in one dish and still taste them all. Each bite is a surprise as a different combination gathers; it’s clear the chivito is the one leading this ride.
The people here are kind, and more than happy to share their national dish. It’s okay with them if I want to go on not thinking about Uruguay, but the truth is I can’t stop wondering about this place, these people and this “sandwich”. Content, we step outside into the black and white night, and stroll across the damp lamp-lit streets.
Trench coat wanting nonetheless, the next mystery on my mind, is dessert.