Still enjoying your chivito? Given the size of that sandwich, I’m not surprised. Anyways, as we were biting into our meal of steak, egg, and other assorted meats– we realized something was missing. To truly get the Uruguayan experience, you need to drink some mate (pronounced mah-tay).
Popular in Uruguay and throughout many other South American countries (Argentina, Paraguay, and parts of Brazil to name a few), mate is caffeine-rich infused drink. It’s not really coffee and it’s not really tea, it’s just…mate.
There’s not a whole lot to do here, which is part of the widespread appeal of the drink. Fill a gourd with yerba (ground and dried yerba mate leaves) and pour hot water over them. The water shouldn’t be boiling however, so don’t make that rookie mistake!
Once you have your water and leaf mixture, you have to get a bombilla. It sounds like a great time, and to be honest…it kind of is. The bombilla is a special straw with a filter that separates the infusion you want to drink from the bits of leaves you don’t. Fancy.
Etiquette and Culture
To be honest, the taste is only half the fascination of mate. To truly drink like a Uruguayan, you have to embrace the culture. Much like afternoon tea in England, there’s a set of do’s and don’ts associated with mate drinking.
- In a social setting, everyone shares the same gourd and same straw
- In a group, one person is the cebador (or server), and is responsible for the first drink – think taste tester
- Refill and pass the gourd to the person on the right, who drinks it without a thank you (which would imply you’re finished, and trust me, you’ll want more)
- Pass back to the cebador who will then repeat the process with each individual member of the group until everyone has had enough
Here’s a few tips and tricks to remember so you don’t embarrass yourself!
- It is not rude to make a sucking sound with the bombilla, it means no more drink is left
- Don’t take too long, or you’ll be called out. The gourd is not a microphone.
- Only thank the cebador when you’ve had your fill
On the go
Sometimes, you might not have the time to enjoy your mate along with a group of five or so other people. In those cases, fill up a thermos, grab your bombilla and enjoy it on the go like everyone’s favourite (or least favourite) Uruguayan pictured below.
Between mate and your chivito (which I’m going to assume you’ve just about finished), you have everything you need to eat and drink like a Uruguayan. Whether you’re at home in Ontario or walking the streets of Montevideo, you can get taste (pun definitely intended) of Uruguayan culture at its best.
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