Restaurants and Hotels
A staple of Paraguayan dining is parrillada—large portions of barbecued meats. Beef, including blood sausage and organ meats, is the mainstay, but pork and chicken are also common. Puchero is a meat, sausage, vegetable, and chickpea stew that's eaten in the cooler months. Bori-bori is a hearty soup with bits of meat, vegetables, and balls molded from cheese and corn. Paraguay's rivers abound with unusual fish, such as the surubí, a giant catfish. It's tastiest when served in a dish called milanesa de surubí (battered and deep-fried fillets). Another tasty option is the dorado, a ferocious predator resembling the salmon. Try it lightly grilled. A soup made from the fish's head and other leftovers is surprisingly delicious.
Usual accompaniments include salads (Paraguay's tomatoes are incredibly flavorful) and palmitos (hearts of palm), considered a delicacy. Other side dishes include sopa paraguaya, a kind of corn bread made with cheese, eggs, and onions, or chipá-guazú, a similar dish in which roughly ground corn is substituted for cornmeal. You also may be served boiled manioc, a white, fibrous root with a bland flavor. Chipá, a type of bread made from corn flour, ground manioc, and sometimes cheese, is baked in a clay oven called a tatakua. It is sold everywhere and is best eaten piping hot. Typical desserts include dulce de leche, a pudding made from slow-cooking milk and sugar; papaya preserved in syrup; and such fresh fruits as pineapple, banana, mango, and melon.
Cafés and bars usually sell snacks, mostly fried or grilled foods that can be prepared quickly. The most popular is milanesa, thin slices of batter-fried beef, chicken breast, pork, or fish. Other favorites are empanadas, envelopes of pastry filled with beef, pork, chicken, corn, or cheese; croquetas, sausage-shape minced meat or poultry that is rolled in bread crumbs and deep fried; and mixtos, ham-and-cheese sandwiches. Many cafés have a daily lunch special—plato del día—that's a good bargain. Paraguayan portions tend to be generous, so don't hesitate to share a dish.
Few Paraguayans are seen without their guampa, a drinking vessel made of a cow's horn, metal, or wood, from which they sip a cold infusion of yerba maté tea. Maté is drunk hot throughout South America, but the cold version, often mixed with medicinal herbs, is more common here. Pilsners, particularly the Baviera brand, are quite good. If you order beer in a restaurant, an enormous bottle is likely to be brought to your table in an ice bucket. Beer on tap is known as chopp (pronounced "shop").
Since restaurants sometimes close between meals, it's important to plan when to eat. Lunch can begin at 11:30, but 12:30 is more typical. Some restaurants stop serving lunch as early as 2. Dinner is often available at 7 PM, with restaurants staying open until 11. More sophisticated dining spots open at 8 PM and serve until shortly after midnight. On Sunday, lunch hours are extended, but late dinner might not be served. Café hours are generally 7 AM–10 PM.
The largest selection of lodgings is in Asunción, although sheer numbers of hotels remain small. Those that are here offer good value for the rates they charge. Evenings get surprisingly chilly here between June and August, but most upscale hotels have much-appreciated heating during the winter. Any place mid-range or above also offers air-conditioning, a must during the summer. Outside Asunción, hotels are few and far between.
Visitor & Tour Info
The friendly staff at Secretaria Nacional de Turismo (Senatur) in Asunción can dish out advice, pamphlets, and maps at the main office near the Plaza de los Héroes daily 7–7. A branch in the Asunción airport arrivals hall beyond the customs exit is open daily for arriving flights. Little printed information on Paraguay is available in English. What you have in your hands is a rare example.