Yerba Maté

Yerba Maté (pronounced mah-teh) is not just tea, it is a way of life and a cultural tradition that you can see everywhere in Uruguay. From an office worker on his/her way to work to a gaucho – folks carry their mate cups called gourds, straws called bombilla and hot water thermos everywhere they go. Some even have a fancy leather carrying case just for their maté. Morning or evening it is always maté time.

While Joe and I were flying from Santiago Chile to Montevideo our plane had the entire Montevideo futbol team Cerro on it.  Many of the players had their maté essentials with them for the flight. That was the first time we had seen the complete set including the leather carrying case.

There is a process to making Yerba Maté the right way.  I am not in any way an expert but I have drunk it many times over the past several years but never in the gourd. I will tell you what I have read and heard about that process. First folks have their favorite brand of maté, they come in pretty large bags the size of a 5 lb sack of flour is the largest I have seen down to very small bags.

You put the dry Yerba Maté into your cup, add a small amount of hot water, not boiling, to wet the maté which activates it.  Allow about 30 seconds for the water to infuse the leaves. Fill the cup with more water and insert the straw called the bombilla. You do not move the bombilla once inserted, no stirring, no messing with the bombilla. If offered a cup of maté you would drink the entire cup, no stirring the straw and return to the owner. Sharing a cup of maté is a very common practice here.  Locals refill the cup until the thermos of hot water is empty. Using the maté grounds 4 or 5 times. And many restaurants will sell just hot water for your mate – there are even vending machines for just hot water.

Uruguayans as well as many Argentinians enjoy this tea all day long.  I have even heard stories that folks wake up early, have their maté and then go back to bed.

Below are just a few examples of the complete set being sold in the mall currently.

Now lets talk bombillas. Oh my, what a selection is available here. Most I have seen have been silver, with all different types of screens to stop the leaves from coming up the straw.

Just another cultural difference that we are learning about.


A Few Differences in Spanish from Ecuador to Uruguay

We have only been here a very short time but have found many differences in the Spanish used here in Uruguay compared to Ecuador and Panama. First the dialect spoken in Uruguay is called Rioplatense for the River Basin that runs into the ocean here in Uruguay bordering Argentina.

Here are just a few of the language and pronunciation differences:

  • English           Spanish Ecuador   Spanish Uruguay
  • suitcase                maleta                      valija
  • shoe                     zapato                      calzato
  • pineapple             pina                          anana
  • avocado               aguacate                  palta
  • market                 mercado                   feria
  • typical greeting   como esta                 que tal
  • you                       tu                             vos
  • y or ll                    ja or ya                    sh sound
  • butter                   mantequilla              mantica
  • cone (ice cream) cono                         bocha
  • chicken                pollo                         pollo  pronounced ll like sh – posho
  • beach                   playa                        playa  pronounced y like sh – plasha
  • boardwalk            malecon                   la rambla
  • red pepper           pimiento rojo            morron
  • sweet potato        camote                     boniato
  • ketchup                salsa de tomate       ketchup
  • hot sauce             aji                             Tabasco

There are so many differences in the language but it is exciting learning something new.

Fashion is different as well, of course coming from the coast of Ecuador we mostly wore shorts, tank tops and flip-flops. Here the women’s shoe styles are so different I had to write an entire article on the shoes alone, I posted that a few weeks back. But they also are wearing long skirts or long dresses as well as knee-length and longer sweaters or vests.  Many people walk around with their maté cup, straw (called a bombilla) and thermos everywhere they go, all day and all night long. Some even have a leather carrying case to hold everything. Also, there are many brands of maté and they come in huge bags.  Drinking yerba maté has been elevated to an art form here.  I will do an entire post on these in the near future.

So we keep learning and keep enjoying our new culture.