Previous stop: A trip to Ghana
There doesn't seem to be much advice out there about traveling to Paraguay—compared to its neighbors like Brazil and Argentina, or compared to other places I've considered traveling in my life. That's worth +10 points on my scorecard.
We picked Paraguay's name out of a hat, albeit a hat that only contained South America and Asia this time (so: random, but not random). Terra incognito—for me, at least, although it's home for millions. Here are just a few small things that I learned while filling in that part of my map. It's just a game—one day of doing, maybe one day of preparing—and the best part of the game, since it is impossible to learn very much in such a short time, is the occasional "oh that's very interesting" insight that plants itself like a small seed in your mind, perhaps bearing some kind of fruit later, perhaps not.
But yes—the "trip" itself.
This time I was in charge of doing the grocery shopping, and a good deal of the food and recipe finding (as if my Spanish is remotely functional anymore), so I didn't even really get the chance to learn much about Paraguay itself in addition to the pre-trip post. Instead, we outsourced that work to the late Anthony Bourdain, from his trip to Paraguay in 2014 (it's a full episode on YouTube, you'll have to buy it to see it):
That's a weak effort for learning about history and culture, so I'll pass along here a few unfinished notes:
- BBC Radio 3, Music Planet: Paraguay - Guarania
- John Gimlette, At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig (2003)
- Peter Lambert and Andrew Nickson, The Paraguay Reader: History, Culture, Politics (2012)
- Nell McShane Wulfhart, 36 Hours in Asunción, Paraguay, The New York Times (2017-11-23)
- Elisa Taber, Damián Cabrera on Hybrid Languages, Dust, and the Invention of Paraguay, Words Without Borders Daily (2020-09-08)
- Sanra Ritten, Making Chipas in Paraguay, Gastronomica 9:2 (2009-05)
Now, onto the food.
Listen: I have been converted. I never would have thought to myself, when thinking of a place to go, that I should try to make dishes from the place I'm going to go. Eat? Sure. Make? How? But the act of looking up what some of the essential dishes are, and trying to figure out how to acquire the odd ("odd") ingredients, and trying to find recipes and videos and advice, and then actually making the dish is, I think, a great way to gain some insight into the place, and to earn the interest that you've gained. What we make will never, ever be right, especially since we've never had any of these things before making them (aside from the empanadas, but I've never had any explicitly Paraguayan empanadas, whatever that might actually mean). The act of thinking and planning and searching and cooking—there's something more there than just consuming, even if it's wrong. (I sort of remember, while visiting Udaipur ages ago, that there were cooking classes that you could sign up for, and I never really thought about it at the time. I would certainly do that now.) Anyway, the point is: don't worry, make food.
We made four dishes:
- Sopa paraguaya - called a "soup", but it's a cornbread with eggs that give it a most non-cornbread texture.
- Soyo - a ground beef stew
- Empanadas - Paraguay dumplings
- Dulce de mamón - a desert made with mamón verde, which I couldn't find at Kirkwood's Global Foods Market, so I went with papaya instead