In the time period January 1998-December 2000, a case-control study on squamous cell cancer of the oesophagus was conducted in Montevideo, Uruguay. The main objective of the study was to estimate the odds ratios (ORs) associated with main food groups. For this purpose, 166 patients afflicted with squamous cell oesophageal cancer and 664 hospitalised controls were frequency matched on age and sex. Both series of patients were administered with a structured questionnaire. Aside from queries related with tobacco smoking, alcohol drinking and maté drinking, patients were interviewed with a food-frequency questionnaire (FFQ) on 64 items, representative of the usual Uruguayan diet. Red meat, salted meat and boiled meat displayed strong direct associations (OR for red meat 2.4, 95% CI 1.4-4.2). On the other hand, fish and total white meat showed moderate protective effect (OR for total white meat 0.5, 95% CI 0.3-0.9). Total fruit intake displayed a strong inverse association (OR 0.2, 95% CI 0.1-0.4), whereas total vegetable consumption presented a weak inverse association (OR for total vegetable intake 0.7, 95% CI 0.4-1.2). These results suggest that vegetables, mainly cooked vegetables, are rich in thermolabile protective substances. On the other hand, boiled (stewed) meat, which is ingested at high temperature could be, like maté, a risk factor for squamous cell cancer of the oesophagus.