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Food, Dining, & Drinks in Paraguay

Historic Diet

Paraguay has a fairly static landscape compared to some neighboring countries, which limits the diversity of their historic plants and animals, but due to the rivers and rains that fall on the country the plant and animal diversity is still quite impressive and these plants and animals have always made up the base of the people's diet.

The plants found in the region include many fruits and vegetables, but also the well-known South American staples of potatoes and to a less degree quinoa, a hardy grain. Among the most popular of these fruits are cherries, strawberries, bilberries, elder berries, and others. The country is also home to a large number of pine trees, making pine nuts an important part of the historic diet in some areas.

In addition to the plants, the early people also used the local animals as an important food supplement. Being landlocked, the people in many regions relied more on meat than sea food, but most of the early settlers, and people since, have lived along the shores of the rivers so have had a reliance on freshwater fish from these rivers including catfish and pike.

Culinary Influences

At about the same time the first people arrived to the region of modern day Paraguay, new foods arrived to the region. These arrived from winds, animals, and with these early settlers. This spread of foods included tomatoes, peppers, corn (maize), peanuts, potatoes, melons, squash, cassava, papayas, chocolate, vanilla, avocado, and other foods. Today all of these foods can be found in most, if not all South American countries, including Paraguay.

With a vast array of foods available, these early settlers used plants and animals to form their diet, including both the plants native to the region as well as those later introduced. From this point, into the 1400s, little changed in the diet other than in food combinations and cooking techniques as the people truly lived off the land as hunters, gathers, fishers, and later as farmers.

Unlike in many other South American countries, the Europeans didn't settle the region of Paraguay to the degree they settled most of the continent. Additionally, many of the European settlers married the local indigenous people and formed a new ethnicity and culture very early in their written history. Because of this the European influence in the foods of Paraguay are not as noticeable as they are in many other countries. None-the-less, many Europeans demanded the foods they ate in Europe and this led to the introduction of European dishes, cooking techniques, and ingredients. Some dishes were brought over without any changes, but most of these European dishes required ingredients that weren't present in Paraguay so these settlers found local foods to use as substitutes, while at other times they introduced new plants and animals to the region from Europe or elsewhere.

Much of this European influence came from Spain as the region became a Spanish colony and most settlers were from Spain. This led to the introduction of Spanish-styled soups, stews, desserts, and other dishes. Even today the Spanish influence is noticeable, although most dishes in Paraguay reflect the indigenous diet more than they do Spain, partially due to the heavy reliance on local ingredients.

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 built.

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 or nap.

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.

Staple Foods

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, and milk

Dining Etiquette

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 accept.

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 Paraguay.

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.

This page was last updated: April, 2013