Top 25 Paraguayan Dishes: The Most Popular Foods in Paraguay
Paraguay, a land-locked country nestled in the heart of South America, is not well known for its cuisine! That does not mean that its food isn’t delicious or unique.
Traditional and still popular, Paraguayan food is based on a few staple ingredients tied to its agricultural heritage.
Kesu, or queso Paraguayo, has a unique tangy flavor that cannot be replicated. It is the heart of many dishes. Maiz, mandioca (yuca root) and rice are the go-to starch choices, though pasta is also popular.
In most foods you’ll find hints of a few different spices and vegetables – garlic, cumin, tomato, onion, and green peppers. Dishes are almost always protein rich with generous portions of farm-raised beef, gallina casera (ryguasu, or farm fresh chicken), pork, eggs, milk, and interesting endemic freshwater fish.
1. Sopa Paraguaya
This is a favorite traditional dish served at any meal and is a must for holidays and special occasions. It’s a unique cornmeal-based bread, with portions of Paraguayan cheese, generous quantities of fresh sliced onions, and at least 6 fresh eggs.
The secret is in the preparation. The eggs should be beaten generously and added to around a kilo of fresh ground corn flour. Up to a liter of milk is added with a spoon of salt and left to sit. Meanwhile, onions are sliced thin and sauteed in either butter or pork fat (the latter is traditional and adds a special flavor, though more often butter is used as a “healthier” alternative). While the onions cool, at least a quarter of a kilogram of aged cheese is crumbled into the batter.
The dish is traditionally cooked in a tatakua, a Paraguayan clay and brick oven heated by a wood fire. If done right, a spongy, tangy, highly satisfying bread with a crunchy top pops out 40 minutes later!
2. Chipa Guasu
Chipa guasu is Sopa Paraguaya’s cousin. It is more or less a corn souffle. The ingredients are fresh corn, ground in a blender with a good amount of milk, a splash of vegetable oil, and eggs. The blended batter is mixed up with crumbled Paraguayan cheese and chopped scallions or sliced raw onion.
Once cooked, it is like a savory bread, which can accompany any meal or be served as a breakfast, quick dinner, or a snack.
3. Chipa Paraguaya
Chipa is a Paraguayan bagel, though it can be shaped in various forms. It’s traditionally made for Semana Santa, to get through a few days of fasting for Easter. Paraguayans, though, eat it year round and it is a popular food for long trips. Chiperias line the bus routes.
Women servers hop on the crowded buses and serve up baggies of the fresh, warm treat to hungry travelers. It’s made with cornmeal, almidón (mandioca flour), eggs, cheese, pork fat, and anise seed for flavor.
Another cheese dish! Mbeju is a classic often made in the cool and dark winter months. Almidón is mixed with cheese (by hand), with a pinch of salt, a splash of milk, and a splash of vegetable oil. A cast iron skillet is heated over charcoal, and the crumbles are fried in oil.
The cook uses a spatula to squish the mixture down and form a circle, which sticks together because of the melted cheese. It is flipped once and served up warm and gooey, usually with cocido paraguayo, a warm tea drink made from burnt yerba mate and sugar.
Milanesas are a popular dish for breakfast, lunch or as a snack. They can even thrown into a hamburger roll and served as a sandwich. Almost anything can be fried into a milanesa, though the most popular are chicken breast milanesas or beef milanesas.
The meat is pounded thin and seasoned with lemon, oregano, garlic, and salt. It sits overnight and is then lightly breaded and fried.
Marinera is very similar to beef milanesa. The difference is that cumin is a key marinade ingredient, and the meat is fried in an egg batter rather than simply breadcrumbs.
7. Tortilla Paraguaya
Tortillas are yet another fried finger food. It’s a simple egg and milk batter, with a bit of wheat flour beaten in and various other tasty additions. Queso Paraguayo is common for cheese tortillas, and scallions and meat are sometimes accompaniments.
The most popular empanadas have a meat filling, with some hard boiled egg and sauteed onion and green pepper. Cumin is usually added to spice them up. Chicken empanadas and ham and cheese empanadas are favorites, and there’s a growing list of interesting varieties, including “choclo”, or corn and cheese stuffed goodies.
They can be found fried or baked at almost any street vendor during the day.
9. Pastel Mandi’o
Pastel mandi’o is an empanada made from ground mandioca, or yuca root, and stuffed with ground meat. It’s very delicate! It’s served as a typical dish in the wintertime.
10. Carne Asada
Paraguay’s favorite main dish is grilled meat. It is served either de la parilla or de la estaka (on the grill or from the stick). The most popular cuts are costilla (beef ribs) or vacio (flank steak). Pork is also popular, especially for big holidays. The ribs are often grilled up as a rack.
Sometimes a family will cook an intact lechón, or baby pig, sliced down the middle. Typical condiments are coarse salt and a bit of Paraguayan lemon juice.
11. Ryguasu – Gallina Casera
Paraguay is still mostly agricultural. Even in the urban areas you can still find chickens running around pecking at grubs and grass. A traditional and popular dish, especially in times of gripe or disease, is ryguasu, Guaraní for gallina casera.
A fresh hen is butchered, chopped, and stewed in a rich broth of gentle yet satisfying spices: usually fresh oregano, a bit of tomato, garlic, and scallions are the preferred combination. The meal is served with sopa or freshly boiled mandioca.
12. Pira Caldo (Fish Stew)
This is hearty fish stew is traditionally made with chunks of surubi (a type of catfish) and a long list of spices and vegetables. An interesting ingredient is, once again, queso paraguayo! A bit of cheese and cream bring together the hearty yet subtle flavors.
13. Borí Borí
Borí (vorí) are balls of corn flour, queso paraguayo, and a splash of oil and vegetable broth. They are added to a fresh vegetable or chicken broth or stew, much like dumplings.
14. Tallarín Paraguayo
Tallarín is one of the most popular meals in Paraguay, served daily or for special occasions. Tallarines are long, thick pasta noodles. The secret’s in the sauce. Either meat (usually with bones), chicken or gallina casera are browned and then simmered in a tomato sauce. Laurel is included for a unique flavor.
Ñoquis, made from potatoes or from flour, is not technically traditional but is extremely popular in Paraguay. Usually they are served with a red sauce and cuts of stewed beef.
16. So’o apu’a (Caldo de Albondigas)
Meatballs made from ground beef and spices are simmered in a tomato and beef broth with onion. The dish can be served with rice.
17. Puchero Locro
Puchero is a beef cut with bones, usually including marrow. The beef cuts are simmered in a tomato and beef broth with potatoes and other vegetables. Usually, locro, or hominy, is added as the carbohydrate staple for this hearty and fulfilling dish. Alternatively, Paraguayan red beans can be used.
18. Manteca Kesu
Manteca (lima beans) are cooked in a vegetable broth rich in garlic. A few minutes before serving, queso paraguayo is added for a tangy flavor. Either rice or noodles are usually cooked into the broth.
19. Kumanda Peky Kesu
Paraguayan poroto San Francisco is a small red bean that grows heartily in the local soil. A typical dish to eat on Mondays after a Sunday asado, beans are stewed in a vegetable-rich broth with a tomato base, garlic, onions, green peppers, squash, and plenty of Paraguayan cheese. Sometimes the cook adds a small pasta to the broth before adding the cheese at the end of the cook time.
20. Kure Enrollado
Kure (pork) meat is sauteed with lemon, garlic, cumin, and parsley and rolled into pig skin. The tube is tied together, boiled, and cut into serving sizes.
Butifarra has Spanish roots as a homemade chorizo dish. Tripe, or pig intestines, are stuffed with seasoned pork meat and boiled into sausages ready to grill or bake.
22. Dulce de Mamón
Papayas, locally known as mamónes, grow like weeds in Paraguay. Locals harvest the green, unripe fruit, cut it into slices, and marinate them in sugar and lemon to conserve them for sweet treats.
23. Torta de Miel Negra
Paraguay is a prolific sugar cane manufacturer. When you refine sugar, you end up with a lot of by-products, otherwise known as miel negra or molasses. A typical dish that takes advantage of this is a quick sweet bread, known as torta de miel negra.
24. Pasta Frola
Another prolific fruit in Paraguay is the guayaba, or the guava. When ripe, locals have to move fast to conserve the fruit! A jam is made from boiling down the fruit and removing its seeds. Pasta frola is a pie with a thicker crust more like a sweet bread. The crust is coated with guava jam, topped with a lattice crust, and baked for a sweet yet healthy cake treat.
25. Budín de Pan
Old bread is recycled into a sweet treat in this dish. Eggs are beat with milk, and a touch of lemon essence/rind or vanilla is added along with a healthy scoop of sugar. The bread is added and soaks up the mixture. A bundt pan is prepared with a caramel glaze in the bottom.
The bread and milk mixture (often liquified first in a blender) is then added to the pan and baked in a tatkua or oven.
Related: Most Popular Desserts in Paraguay