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A taste of Uruguay: UB student cooks traditional Uruguayan meals in his dorm to keep roots alive

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Gabriel Pereira stood on his tiptoes, barely tall enough to see the grill in front of him, and could tell that his asado was ready just by the savory fumes emerging from the large slab of beef. Pereira, a sophomore computer science major, left Uruguay when he was six years old. Now in the U.S., he cooks Uruguayan meals to de-stress, keep in touch with his cultural roots and give others a taste of his homeland.

“My father taught me how to cook when I was 10. I learned how to barbecue before I ever started cooking in a kitchen,” Pereira said.

He explained that cooking is a huge part of Uruguayan culture and everyone should know how to prepare traditional dishes; it’s part of the culture. It has always been important for Pereira to stay in touch with his heritage. He sometimes felt it was difficult to retain his cultural identity while in New York City and UB – two places he considers cultural “melting pots.”

Pereira thinks that most people wouldn’t be able to point out his home country on a map. For these reasons, he cooks to preserve his culture and teach his peers – and maybe one day his children – about Uruguay.

His most memorable moment while cooking was making asado for his friends in Buffalo last semester.

“We went to an actual butcher and picked out slices of beef to use and we got fresh vegetables and seasonings to use too,” Pereira said. “The process from start to finish was very enjoyable.”

To prepare the asado, Pereira takes a slab of beef and cuts off as much fat as possible. He then salts the remaining steak and carefully places it on the grill so the meat is cooked evenly on both sides. He makes small cuts in the meat to make sure the middle is also done.

“Gabriel’s food is refreshing to eat when all I eat is campus food. So basically it’s amazing,” said Shamere Billups, a sophomore mathematics major.

Another famous meal from Uruguay is chivito – a sandwich with a thin slice of filet mignon, bacon, ham and eggs.

“Uruguayan food is delicious but also a bit unhealthy, we eat a lot meat even in our breakfast,” Pereira said. “Torta de fiambre, Uruguayan pie, is a common breakfast item which is stuffed with ham, cheese and eggs.”

Pereira works out regularly in the Richmond gym to stay in shape and to deal with the unhealthy nature of his favorite meals.

When cooking for friends on campus, he usually makes quesadillas and guacamole. These simple, inexpensive dishes are customizable to everyone’s taste.

“Gabriel’s guacamole brought a harmony of citrusy and salty flavors to my taste buds while providing a creamy consistency,” said BriLynn Graham, a junior geology major.

Pereira’s current cooking space is limited to the Porter kitchen. He plans to move to an apartment next year to practice his craft in a more spacious environment. “Cooking is relaxing, it creates a happy place in my mind,” Pereira said. “It’s always a very enjoyable experience – unless the avocados aren’t ripe enough, then it becomes stressful.”

Through sharing his food, Pereira feels like he “carries his country on his back.” In homage to the country that’s inspired his cooking, Pereira plans to get a tattoo of the Uruguayan flag on his back.

Toussaint Chen is a staff writer and can be reached at features@ubspectrum.com


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