Paraguayan food is hearty. It’s food that’s meant to fill you up. And Paraguayans love their meat. When I first visited Paraguay last year, I was a vegetarian. Being a vegetarian is impossible* in Paraguay. It’s not considered food if it doesn’t have meat in it. So, since I’m an anthropologist and I eat what’s put in front of me, I gave up vegetarianism for Paraguay.
My favourite foods when I’m at home tend to be a little spicy. It’s tough to find spicy food in Paraguay. I think the only spicy thing I’ve been able to find are mildly spicy sausages, and sometimes Tabasco sauce is around to add to your asado (BBQ) meat. But I think I’ve adapted pretty well to my new diet here. Although I do go crazy for vegetables whenever I can get them.
Some Paraguayan foods I often run into include:
Empanadas, fried dough with some kind of filling inside, are the fast food of choice in Paraguay. There’s a chain of empanada stores called Don Vito that are really popular and lots of gas stations and little shops sell them too. Popular flavours include beef (carne), ham and cheese, and palmitos. Every place makes them a little bit different – sometimes hard boiled egg is mixed in there or they use different spices. I have terrible luck with empanadas and get sick every time I eat them (I’m beginning to think it’s some kind of food intolerance rather than a stomach bug.)
Milanesa is a breaded meat fillet. You can find Milanesa in lots of Southern Cone countries. People in Paraguay use lemon juice for seasoning. Milanesa is usually served with rice or mashed potatoes.
This photo features two related foods: Sopa Paraguaya (on the right) and Chipa Guazu (on the left). Sopa Paraguaya (“the world’s only solid soup”) is a lot like cornbread. And Chipa Guazu is almost the same except instead of ground corn they use fresh kernels. Usually you’ll have your choice of either at an asado.
An asado is Paraguayan barbecue and hugely popular. Whenever there is a special occasion, like a birthday or a wedding, there’s an asado. If there’s a gathering of friends of family, there’s an asado. If it’s the weekend and people are craving an asado, there’s an asado. (Sometimes there will even be an asado on a weekday!)
The asado takes various forms depending on the available equipment: in photo number one we’re grilling outdoors with the coal under the grill, in photo number two there’s a barbecue on hand, and photo number three features the ultimate in asado cooking equipment: the dedicated indoor asado grill.
I hosted an asado yesterday as a thank you for the people in the CEDIC lab. At first nobody wanted to come because they thought I was cooking (a vegetarian asado! hehehe), but nearly everybody showed up after we cleared up that I was just buying the food and only making the desert.
We had your typical asado spread: ribs, steak, and four different kinds of sausage, sopa paraguayo, mandioca, and salad (lettuce and tomatoes). Everything comes off the grill except the salad.
For desert I made pancakes to be served with ice cream, dulce de leche (which is kind of like caramel and delicious), and chocolate syrup. So yummy. Any desert with dulce de leche is amazing, and sadly it’s really hard to find in the U.S. (and probably even harder to find in Canada).
[Update April 2nd, 2011: Spelling of Chipa Guasu changed to Chipa Guazu.]
*Impossible is not technically correct, since I have met a woman from Argentina who is a vegetarian and lives in Paraguay. But it’s different when you live in your own house and can cook for yourself!