Market to mouth

by Devo

I’ve had a few of my favorite types of cultural exchanges recently – food-related ones! Last Sunday was Easter for many people, and in many Catholic communities and all around Paraguay, it lasts the whole week. Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is the week leading up to Easter Sunday. Each day has a different tradition (the link has more specifics), but the most important tradition for this post is that you are not supposed to eat meat on Friday and Saturday (“chicken is fine,” according to a friend). In order to prepare, people binge eat on Thursday – karu guazu, big meal in Guarani – and bake a lot of chipa on Wednesday to eat later on.


Wednesday I returned to Villeta and made chipa with my host family from training. First, you take the dough:

Chipa dough

Chipa dough

That bowl was full at the beginning. We made a lot of chipa. We might not eat meat for two days, so better make sure we’ve got enough to last, right?

Then you knead it, which was quite a bit of work and required muscle.

Didn't think I'd skip an opportunity for a bad pun?

I knead a break!

When everyone in the family left to relax and I was stuck working with the dough, I realized why they were so eager to invite me over to make chipa with them (actually, mamá never stopped working, but she never stops).

Meanwhile, you have to prepare the tatakua. “Fire hole” in Guarani, this is a large brick and clay dome that is fired up and stays hot for up to an hour so you can cook your chipa. It is an art to get the tatakua to the perfect, chipa-cooking temperature.

Preparing the tatakua

Preparing the tatakua

I didn't actually do anything

I didn’t actually do anything

Looking ready!

Looking ready!

In go the chipas

In go the chipas

Did I mention that coaxing the tatakua to the perfect, chipa-loving temperature was an art? Well, we weren’t the most skilled.

Joti is not looking too pleased by burnt chipa

Joti is not looking too pleased by the burnt chipa

We did manage to get a few good batches.

Can you guess which one is mine?

Can you guess which one is mine?

There you have it – how not to starve on the Friday and Saturday before Easter. These are probably 50% pig fat, so eat one and you’ll be full for a while, eat two and you’ll have gastrointestinal problems!

I made the shark (left) and the iguana (right)

I made the shark (left) and the iguana (right)

Sopa paraguaya

Another fatty food that you can eat on Friday and Saturday to tide you over until your next asado is Paraguay’s national side dish, sopa paraguaya.


Sopa paraguaya is not a soup. It is like a dense cornbread that is made with corn flour, eggs, cheese, onion, fat, and salt. The story goes that founder of Paraguay President Carlos Antonio López ordered a soup of vori vori (liquid soup with corn flour dumplings), but the cook either accidentally put in too much corn flour or let it sit out too long so that the dumplings absorbed all the liquid. Luckily, Don López enjoyed the solid “soup” and there we have sopa paraguaya.

Señora Nancy and the sopa

Before Semana Santa, I went to Señora Nancy’s house to make some sopa. I brought along a Danish friend and he brought along a video camera. Please excuse the music blasting in the background, it’s a Sunday tradition.

Lil' Sebastian eating with chopsticks (I taught him!)

Lil’ Sebastian eating with chopsticks (I taught him!)

Killing a chicken

Method two of not starving during the “fast” is the karu guazu (big meal in Guarani) on Thursday. What follows is exactly what you think. For the meal, you have to have meat. My 73-year-old host mom knew exactly what to do. Warning: a chicken is killed in the video. Duh.

Mamá and the dead chicken