In preparation for Semana Santa, or Holy Week, Paraguayan families prepare gratuitous amounts of chipá, a traditional Paraguayan food I described in a previous post. Such a quantity of chipá is necessary because, in addition to the fact that it is consumed all week, it is also the exclusive food eaten on Good Friday—a Paraguayan version of fasting.
On the Wednesday before Easter, the chipá bonanza begins. It starts by firing up the tatakuaa, a large igloo-shaped mud-brick oven used for baking chipá and only chipá.
Next, the chipá batter must be mixed. Several kilograms of pig fat (both solid and liquid) are put into a large wooden tub and stirred into a soupy blend. Dozens of eggs are mixed with the batter while cheese is crumbled in as well. Then, several packets of anise are added. I had never seen or used this spice before coming to Paraguay, but here it is extremely common in almost all types of bread.
Next come fresh milk and almidón, flour made from cassava roots. Ground corn is the last addition before the mixture’s moisture content is adjusted slightly with more milk. Family members—kids included—work the pasty, speckled dough into shapes, usually circles or loaves, but also into birds or crosses or other such shapes with religious symbolism in reference to the coming Easter. The dough is baked and in 20 minutes the chipá is ready.
The first bite of chipá is delicious, I discovered during this year’s observation of Holy Week. It is warm and gooey on the inside, crispy and crunchy on the outside, and very filling. After two or three pieces, however, things go downhill quickly. Chipá is heavy on the carbohydrates and fat (pig fat, to be more precise). Therefore, eating it in huge quantities feels (to me at least) like eating a comparable number of McDonald’s cheeseburgers. I learned to draw my limit at one or two, knowing that each family I visited would insist that I try some of their chipá (despite the fact once you have tried one, you really have tried them all). I spent the week after Easter recovering from the food shock my body had experienced. —Mario Machado