There is no secret ingredient to Bar Arocena’s famous chivito. Or at least that’s what Fernando López, one of Arocena’s managers, says as I get ready to bite into the hot sandwich he’s just put down in front of me. “No secrets,” he repeats. “It’s a very simple sandwich. So simple.”
The sandwich doesn’t look like anything special. It’s a thin steak with bacon, ham, eggs, and melted cheese thrown together with tomatoes, lettuce, garlic, red peppers, and a healthy serving of mayo, all under a lightly toasted bun. But once I bite into it and the flavors all meld together on the tongue, I can see why this place boasts of having the best chivito in town. It is amazing in its simplicity.
Arocena opened in the upscale suburb of Carrasco in 1929. It is one of those rare Uruguayan places open 24 hours a day. It’s the typical neighborhood bar where the servers are warm and friendly, the shelves are lined with all types of liquor, the walls are covered with photos and memorabilia, and the kitchen serves only one thing. Here it’s the chivito, or if you want to be more precise, the chivito canadiense. (It gained the moniker because early versions of the sandwich used Canadian bacon instead of local ham.)
Uruguay’s national sandwich can be found on nearly every street in Montevideo. Uruguayans young and old eat it hot, most often with fries and a Coke. And on nearly every street a bar, restaurant, or diner boasts of theirs being the city’s best.
As with any national treasure, the story of how it was invented and when is a matter of debate. At its core, the chivito contains cheese, a thin steak, and ham on toasted bread. But the sandwich can include all sorts of ingredients, like bacon, lettuce, tomato, and olives. It can now also be ordered without the bun or even without meat.
4 strips bacon
1 piece tenderloin steak
1 hamburger bun
1 handful iceberg lettuce
½ tomato, sliced
½ sweet red bell pepper, chopped
½ hard-boiled egg, sliced
4 slices fresh mozzarella cheese
4 slices uncured ham
Fry the bacon in a pan or hot griddle, adding oil until the bacon is browned but not crispy. Set aside.
Cook the tenderloin to medium well. Sauté the garlic in the juices until it is lightly browned.
Toast the bun. On the bottom bun, place the lettuce first, then add the sliced tomatoes, sliced hard-boiled egg, bell pepper, garlic, and a healthy amount of mayo. (Never, ever put the lettuce directly on top of the meat because the steak will burn and blacken it, López says.)
Add the mozzarella cheese to the toasted top bun and put into the oven to melt the cheese.
On the grill, stack the cooked bacon on top of the tenderloin, and add the slices of ham. Once the cheese has melted, place the top bun onto the ham. Transfer the whole top onto the bun with the veggies.
Slice in half and serve.