From the typical Paraguayan ‘asado’ to the confusingly-named sopa paraguaya (which is not, in fact, soup, Paraguay is home to a variety of unique flavorful dishes.
Paraguayan cuisine uses a lot of corn, beef, cassava, and fresh soft cheese. It’s flavorful and exciting, yet woefully overlooked by travelers.
Living in Paraguay, I’ve learned a lot about the cuisine. To help you get the most out of your trip, I’m going to reveal the must-tries, as well as a little about the preparation, history, and urban legends behind each of these mouth-watering Paraguayan dishes.
1. Sopa paraguaya
When translated into English, ‘sopa paraguaya’ is literally ‘Paraguayan soup’. The thing is, this sopa isn’t soup at all – it’s not even liquid!
Sopa is a bread-like side dish made with corn flour, milk, eggs, lard, cheese, and occasionally chopped onions. It’s similar to cornbread, but without the sweetness. Sopa is usually served as a side dish with asado (barbecued meat or sausage).
This dish is a quintessential example of Paraguayan cuisine, to the point where people often refer to someone or something as “more Paraguayan than sopa” to say that they’re deeply connected to the country’s culture.
There are a few urban legends about how sopa got its perplexing name, although none of them are confirmed to be true. One popular story is that it was invented by the chef of Paraguay’s first president accidentally.
According to legend, the president received a visit from some foreign diplomats, and he asked his chef to prepare his favorite soup for lunch. As she was preparing the dish, the chef accidentally added too much corn flour and the soup became too thick to serve.
It was too late to start over, so the chef decided to repurpose her soup. She greased a pan, poured in the thickened soup, and stuck it in the ‘tatakua’, a traditional Paraguayan clay oven. The president was delighted by the dish and presented it to his guests as sopa paraguaya.
Another sopa origin story goes back even further in Paraguay’s history. In this version, it’s said that when the Spanish Jesuits came into contact with the indigenous Guaraní people in Paraguay, they were offered meat to eat. But when the Spaniards finished eating, they were still hungry.
The Guaraníes didn’t have any more meat to offer, so they decided to prepare a mixture of ground corn cooked in banana leaves. When they brought the humble dish to the men, they explained in their language “so’o opa” (meaning “there’s no more meat”). However, this word sounds similar to the Spanish word sopa, meaning soup.
TL;DR It’s a simple side dish with a confusing name and a long, probably mostly made-up backstory. Give it a try if you visit Paraguay!
Chipa is a typical dish in Paraguay. It’s usually made in the form of a circle and looks kind of like a bagel with a bigger hole, although when made at home you can shape it any way you like.
The dough is made with cassava or yucca starch, eggs, animal fat, cheese, anise, and sometimes corn flour. Chipa is usually eaten for breakfast or as a snack and is often accompanied by a warm cup of cocido, a tea-like drink made from cooked yerba maté and sugar.
The streets of Paraguay are full of people selling chipa. Some sell on foot, carrying a basket full of chipa and selling to passersby. Others even get on and off the buses to sell to passengers and some vendors also use their cars. They have a speaker on their vehicle that plays a recording as they drive through the streets of the neighborhood. (You can listen to the sound of the chipa cars here.)
The typical round chipa almidón is what you’ll see most often in the streets, but there are a few different ways to prepare chipa. Chipa so’o is the original chipa dough with a meat filling. Another popular variation is chipa asador, where the dough is stuck to a wooden pole and cooked over a fire.
3. Chipa guazu
Like many Paraguayan foods, chipa guazu is made from a corn base. But unlike sopa, it’s made with fresh corn instead of corn flour. The fresh corn kernels are blended together with eggs, milk, and salt, to make a thick liquid. Cheese and sometimes onion is added to the liquid in a baking dish and it’s cooked in the oven.
It’s another popular side dish, along with sopa, that often accompanies a delicious asado. Some prefer it over sopa as it’s not as dry. It has a texture kind of like souffle, depending on how it’s made. It’s one of my favorite dishes in Paraguay and a must-try if you visit!
Asado is the Spanish word for barbecue. While it isn’t exactly a dish per se, asado is a culinary tradition in Paraguay. If budget allows, asado is a Sunday lunch tradition for most Paraguayans. It’s also a favorite for special events and gatherings with friends and family.
A Paraguayan asado can include a variety of different dishes, but the star of the show is always the meat. Beef and pork ribs, steak, and sausage are all popular choices, although occasionally chicken and fish are used as well. The barbecued meat is often served with a side of sopa and yucca.
Whether it’s a few grilled sausages or a feast of steak and ribs, asado is best enjoyed with good friends and family. If you’re invited to eat asado during a visit to Paraguay, don’t miss the chance to experience some great food and Paraguayan culture.
5. Pira caldo
In Guaraní, ‘pira’; means fish, so ‘pira caldo’ literally means fish soup. It’s made with vegetables, catfish, and fresh cheese.
It’s said that it was invented after the War of the Triple Alliance in the late 1860s. Food became scarce during the war, and the recipe was invented as a simple high-calorie meal to help ride out the low supply of provisions.
Fishing is a popular hobby in Paraguay, so most people make this dish using their own catch. The Paraná River is a popular fishing spot, as is the Paraguay River.
Mbeju is another traditional dish from Paraguay. It’s a round flat savory cake, with a unique flavor and texture that can’t be compared with any other dish.
The dough is dry and crumbly and is made with cassava or yucca starch, animal fat or butter, a splash of milk, fresh Paraguayan cheese, and salt. Once the dough is made, the mixture is scooped into a hot pan to form the round cake. The fat and cheese help it all stick together as it cooks, and once one side is done, it gets flipped like a pancake. You can see how it’s done in the video!
Mbeju is usually eaten as a snack or for breakfast. It’s often prepared on a cold rainy day with a cup of piping hot cocido. Its salty cheesy flavor combines perfectly with the sweetness of the cocido.
Despite sharing a name, Paraguayan tortillas aren’t anything like the tortillas you’ll find in Mexico. Tortilla is made with flour, eggs, salt, milk, cheese, and sometimes extras, like green onion or ham.
The liquidy mixture is then ladled into a pan with hot oil to fry. It’s a delicious comfort food that’s often served with soup or salad. It’s another one of my absolute favorites, so make sure to try it if you visit Paraguay.
8. Vori vori
Vori vori is one of the most popular traditional soups in Paraguay – and yes, this one is liquid! It’s a broth with little balls of corn flour, cheese, and either beef or chicken. It’s essentially the chicken noodle soup of Paraguay, as it’s often said that it can cure a cold. Vori vori is the perfect comfort food for a chilly day.
9. Bife Koygua
Koygua means shy or hidden in Guaraní, so the name of this stew is literally ‘hidden beef’. Some say it was named this because the beef is hidden under the eggs and vegetables.
To prepare this stew, start by frying some onions and then add your beef steaks to the pan. Once cooked, you can add potato and tomato, and then pour in some water. Add salt, pepper, and oregano, and once it’s cooked, crack some eggs into the stew and let them cook for a few minutes.
Finally, top the stew with some fresh parsley, and you have bife koygua! It’s a staple of Paraguayan cuisine and can be served with a side of tortillas or yucca.
10. Payaguá Mascada
The name of this dish refers to the indigenous group known as payaguas that lived in Paraguay in pre-colonization times. It’s believed that they created the original version of this dish, and it was later altered by Spanish colonizers to suit their tastes.
The modern-day version of the dish is a mixture of the two cuisines, preserving elements of the original recipe and the changes made by the colonizers. It’s prepared with ground beef, yucca, and onions, formed into a patty, and fried. It’s kind of like a small fried hamburger. This dish is also sometimes called lambreado or lampreado.