Foods of Easter Week
The celebration of Easter week (Semana Santa) is pretty similar to festivities in other Catholic countries. However, there is one major distinguishing factor: the food. Semana Santa is a chance for urban Paraguayans to return to their rural roots and savor some good ol’ down home country cooking. Food is such a significant part of Semana Santa that, as the date draws near, there is hoarding and price gouging of main ingredients such as corn flour, eggs, and cheese.
The MVP of Semana Santa gastronomy is chipa. During Semana Santa chipa is elevated to a new level both in terms of quantity and creativity. On the Wednesday of Semana Santa, families fire up the tatakua (wood burning brick oven) and make large quantities of chipa, enough to last for several days. This is due to the fact that cooking is forbidden between Thursday and Sunday morning for religious reasons. Some stick to the classic donut shape, but many choose to sculpt the dough into all types of shapes. The most common shapes are animals; from crocodiles and rabbits to birds in nests with eggs. This adorned chipa is known as chipa yegua. Chipa is then consumed throughout the weekend and distributed to friends and family as a sign of affection.
On Thursday (Jueves Santo), a huge meal is prepared for the entire family in commemoration of the Last Supper. It’s the last time you are supposed to do any (major) cooking or eat red meat until Easter Sunday, so Paraguayans go all out. People spend Wednesday and Thursday preparing their favorite Paraguayan dishes. A popular main dish is tallarn (linguini noodles) with gallina casera (farm-raised chicken) or beef in red sauce. City folk may opt for bacalao (cod) instead. Desserts include leche crema (custard), budm de pan (Paraguayan style bread pudding similar to a thick flan), and arroz con leche (rice pudding). After Easter Sunday Mass is over, everyone gathers once more around the table to celebrate, this time usually with a large asado (barbeque).
Dia de la Virgen de Caacupe
The Virgen de Caacupe is not only the patron saint of the town Caacupe itself but also for the entire country as well. The saint engenders particular devotion in Paraguayans, drawing well over one million devotees to her hometown in the days leading up to December 8th. In fact, the Da de la Virgen de Caacupe is one of Paraguay’s most important holidays. The procession to Caacupe is like something out of The Canterbury Tales – part walk-a-thon and part street-fair. The faithful arrive in droves from all over the country, mostly on foot. The extremely pious travel on their knees, others on bicycle, and, though it is becoming a rare sight, some pilgrims from the countryside make their way by ox-drawn cart. Participating in the pilgrimage to Caacupe is a unique opportunity to witness Paraguay’s religious fervor at its apex (see The Pilgrimage to Caacupe).
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