Food in Paraguay
Paraguayan food is one of the most varied in South America. Paraguayans are used to eating typical dishes several times a week throughout the year. You will find much of the standard South American cuisine, as well as some Brazilian influence. Paraguayan food is not particularly spicy, so those who can’t stand spices will have no problem here.
Paraguay has a tradition for beef, which is generally of good quality and cheap. Grilled meat (asado) is what you should eat. Pasta is also popular, as are street stands selling panchos (hot dogs), hamburgers, empanadas and other fast food. Vegetables, salads and other meats are not as common, but are available. In restaurants, you can usually get free cassava as a side dish (like bread in other countries).
You must try the traditional Paraguayan cuisine, which includes dishes like the following:
- Chipa – a bread baked in an outdoor oven or “tatacua” and usually made from mandioca (cassava) flour. Mandioca is often used instead of potatoes. Mandioca, or mandi’o in Guaraní, looks like a potato and is usually eaten boiled, but can also be fried. Paraguayans eat it almost daily and many grow it on their land.
- Mbeju is a flatbread made of mandioca starch and Paraguayan cheese.
- Pastel madi’o is a cassava paste filled with “so’o ku’í” or minced meat.
- Sopa Paraguaya and a form of cornbread are two of the most famous. Sopa means soup, so it is an unusual experience to eat a solid soup, probably the only one in the world.
- Tortillas in Paraguay are different from other places in Latin America. It is more of a fried dough (made with Paraguayan cheese).
- Payagua mascada (Guarani for dog chewing gum, but has nothing to do with it) is a tortilla also made of manioc and beef (high in protein and calories).
- Try Sopa So’o if you get the chance – it’s a Paraguayan cornbread with chunks of meat, often marinated in garlic and lime.
- Pira caldo is a soup made with catfish, tomatoes, fat and spices.
- The asado (barbecue) is excellent, and the prices are quite reasonable – for PYG20,000 guaranies (US$4) you get an all-you-can-eat buffet in many nice places. PYG5,000 is enough for a hamburger.
- Empanadas (meat/egg stuffed in batter and baked) and milanesa (breaded and fried chicken/meat/fish) are also very popular. These dishes are considered fast food and can be found in other countries in the region. If you order a hamburger in a restaurant, expect it to be topped with a fried egg.
Drinks in Paraguay
Tap water in Asunción and possibly Ciudad del Este is safe to drink. In the rest of Paraguay, tap water has to be treated to make it drinkable. PLAN International is working to bring clean water to communities in rural areas (if it exists, it is safe to drink). However, be sure to ask before drinking water in rural areas – many Paraguayans claim that their water is safe to drink, even if it is not purified.
The most common drink in Paraguay is mate made from yerba mate (mate herbs), which is similar in style to tea but different in preparation. The addition of sugar is not common in Paraguay. The infusion is prepared by pouring the dry yerba into the cup and then adding water: the hot water version is called mate (preferred in Argentina and Uruguay), while the cold water version is called tereré and is a local favourite. When hot, it is more common to drink it as tereré, served in guampas which may be made of wood or hollowed out bull horns and drunk through a metal straw called a bombilla.
Mate is usually consumed early in the morning and late at night, especially on cold winter days. Terere can be enjoyed all year round, but not at lunchtime or after sunset, as many recommend. Yet you can see all types of Paraguayans (from construction workers to businessmen) carrying their terere kit at all times. As it is a social activity, the cup is passed around, refilling it each time. If you are offered both, you should accept at least one cup. If you can get used to the taste and join in, the locals will be grateful. Herbs are often added to the tereré water (locally called “remedios” or “yuyos” which cure various ailments). The addition of coconut to mate, for example, is said to help relieve headaches. The taste is rather earthy, like a bitter green tea, and it takes some getting used to before you can enjoy it.
Drinking mate or tereré is certainly one of the social customs of Paraguay. The shops close around noon for a siesta and a game of mate/terre with friends.
Another way to prepare it is to boil the yerba on the fire with sugar, then strain it before serving it with milk. It tastes like a bit of smoked tea. In this form it is called cocido, which simply means “cooked”.
Other non-alcoholic drinks
- The coffee is mainly of the Italian variety.
- Gaseosa means soft drinks of all kinds. All the usual brands are available. Try the local guarana.
- Pulp is a very popular Paraguayan soft drink. You can buy it in supermarkets or order it in various restaurants and bars. The original is Pulp Naranja, made with real orange juice.
- Mosto helado is made from sugar cane and is very sweet. It is sometimes mixed with lime juice to make an “aloja”. You will find street carts selling mosto near the Centro area and in the countryside.
In Paraguay, orange juice and other fruit juices, unless freshly squeezed, are almost always reconstituted from dehydrated concentrate. This applies to all non-refrigerated Tetra Pak juices. Note that the dehydration process destroys the vitamin C and, unlike in the West, ascorbic acid cannot be added after reconstitution, so these fruit juices may not contain any appreciable amount of vitamin C. Check the packaging, buy fresh juice (freshly squeezed by a street vendor or the Purifru brand in the refrigerated section) or take advantage of the wide variety of fresh fruit available on many street corners.
- Beer is widely available, as are many spirits. The local beer is Brahma or Pilsen.
- Paraguayan liquor is similar to rum and is known locally as Caña. It is made from sugar cane.