Despite adopting many local plants and animals for dishes, the Europeans also introduced
some new plants and animals. Among the hundreds of plants and animals that were
introduced to the region by the Europeans, the most important were likely wheat,
rice, pigs, chicken, and cattle. Others were also introduced and are now common
in Paraguay, although they differ in terms of popularity and importance, including
onions, cilantro, black pepper, limes, garlic, broccoli, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce,
olives, bananas, apples, lemons, and oranges.
The cattle were very important in many ways and one of the greatest draws for European settlers to Paraguay was
due to the vast lands available for ranching. This made cattle and other animals
one of the largest industries in the region. Today this ranching past has created
asado (barbeque), which is a feast of grilled and smoked meats (and vegetables),
which has since became an important aspect of the local culture and diet.
Since the late 1800s the diet has been constantly changing, but during this time
most changes have occurred due to technological changes. Better transportation and
storage techniques allow the importation (and exportation) of foreign foods, which
are now easily accessible in large cities.
In the past couple decades there has been a shift in Asuncion as ethnic restaurants
have slowly sprung up. Again, few locals eat at these restaurants and they have
not truly affected the local diet, but they are a growing trend as
Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Italian,
and Mexican restaurants are all present as more are being
When & Where to Eat
Most Paraguayans begin the day with breakfast, which is
often small and centered on coffee or tea. Although numerous foods can be served
for breakfast, many people just have a small pastry or bread with their beverage.
Breakfast is small in part because lunch is not. Throughout most of
Paraguay lunch is the largest meal of the day and many people close shops
to eat at home from about noon to 2:00 or 3:00 pm. This meal generally consists
of multiple courses and usually includes soup, meats, rice, potatoes, vegetables,
dessert, and coffee or tea. In many areas lunch is still followed with a siesta
Dinner in most of the country tends to be small and takes place very late, generally
beginning at 9:00 or 10:00 pm as most people tend to have dinner in the home with
family. For large gatherings, parties, or business dinners this meal may be larger
than that of lunch and may take place in a restaurant (in the case of business dinners),
but it tends to begin at about the same time as dinner in the home.
Beef: perhaps not a true staple, but beef and other grilled meats
are so common they are the centerpiece of many meals
Bread: breads are served with many meals
Pastries: pastries are commonly served for snacks, breakfast, or
dessert as are cakes (chipa)
Potatoes: a common side dish in some areas
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Kosereva: a candy made primarily from molasses and oranges
Sopa paraguaya: this moist cake is made from corn, cheese,
The Paraguayans tend to dress nicely, especially over meals
with new friends or business acquaintances so if you get invited to dine with the
locals in either a home or a restaurant be sure to dress nicely and, if at a business
meeting, a jacket and tie are needed for guys and girls should wear a blouse or
skirt. No matter where you're eating, be sure to arrive at least 60 minutes
late for dinner, and as late as an hour and a half for parties as this is when the
Paraguayans tend to arrive for dinners (generally the invitation is for 8:30 or
9:00 pm and dinner will begin at 10:00 pm).
Before sitting down let your host show you a seat as they may have a particular
seating chart; be aware that men and women also tend to sit on opposite sides of
the table so if they insist you seat yourself, try to follow this rule, but reserve
the heads of the table for the host and hostess. Once you settle in try to avoid
any sensitive subjects like politics or religion; also avoid business topics over
a meal unless your host brings it up first.
The table setting is similar to that of North America
or Europe so most people are familiar with it, but there
are a couple things to remember when eating. First, always keep your hands above
the table so they are in sight, preferably by resting your wrists on the edge of
the table. Next, don't begin eating or drinking until your host or hostess invites
you to do so. This is usually initiated by the words "buen provecho"
to begin eating and a toast, perhaps as simple as "salud" before
drinking. Also try to avoid pouring wine as there are a number of rules on how wine
should be poured; the two most important being to never pour with your left hand
and you should pour the bottle forward into the glass.
When the food arrives and you start eating, be sure to eat in the continental style,
meaning the knife stays in the right hand and the fork remains in the left. You
should use your utensils to eat everything except bread, which will often sit on
the table itself or on your main plate as bread plates are uncommon. Also try to
avoid cutting lettuce in a salad and if you pass food it should always go left.
Try to take a small amount of food at first if possible. Most Paraguayans
will fill your plate then encourage you to have a second helping, which you should
As you finish your meal leave a bit on your plate, which is a sign you were given
more than enough. Also put your fork and knife together, prongs down and handles
facing right. When you are finished eating you may be offered dessert, coffee, tea,
brandy, or another beverage, which is again polite to accept. After this is done
and the conversation has ceased summon the waiter or waitress over (if you invited
others out to the restaurant) by making eye contact, subtly raising your hand, and
saying "mozo" (you will not get a bill until you ask for it).
The inviter is expected to pay for everyone, but if you are not the host offer to
help pay none-the-less. If you do pay, look for a service charge, which is usually
included in the amount of 10%. No additional tip is needed, but if service was excellent
you can round up beyond the 10%; if no service charge was added a tip is not expected,
but you can tip up to 10% for excellent service.
Celebrations & Events
Perhaps the best time to experience the local foods in Paraguay
is during their Independence Day celebration, which takes place on May 15. This
is a time to celebrate independence from Spain with fireworks,
dancing, and remembering those who helped the country gain freedom, but it is also
a time to try the foods. On this day the typical foods served are those from the
pre-Columbian times, almost symbolically stating their independence from Spain has
returned them to their former state as nearly everyone has some indigenous heritage
and the country today reflects this heritage.
Paraguay offers all the world's most popular non-alcoholic
drinks, including tea, coffee, juices, and soft drinks, but also has a couple unique
local specialties worth trying. The first among these is terere, which
is mate (made from the yerba mate plant), but terere
is made from cold, not hot water. Herbs are also often added, including mint, as
are fruit juices. Mate is nearly identical, but is made with hot water.
Drinking these indigenous beverages is also a ritual as they must be drank from
a certain container (usually a gourd) and using a certain straw.
Paraguay offers nearly any kind of alcoholic beverage one
can ask for, but most of these wines, beers, and liquors are imported. The wines
are generally from neighboring countries, which produce excellent wines, the beers
range from popular international brands to small local breweries, and the liquors
again typically consist of popular international brands. However, there is one local
alcohol that stands out: cana, which is often known as aguardiente
in other South American countries. This drink is distilled from sugar cane (hence
the name) and sometimes also from honey; it is commonly used in mixed drinks in
Generally speaking, the tap water is safe to drink in the large cities of
Paraguay, but not safe in more rural regions. Either way, check with locals
before consuming the water and if you do decide to drink the water, remember that
many people may have troubles adjusting to the local tap water as it will most certainly
be different from what your system is used to.