Chipa Paraguaya is one of the most traditional foods that can be found in Paraguay.
It’s origins go back to long before the arrival of the Spanish in the region.
The original chipa was the bread that was made by the Guarani who lived in the forests of the land that is now known as Paraguay.
The chipas of the Guarani were made of ground cassava flour and fat. This was baked to produce their bread, which they called chipa.
The arrival of the Spanish did not erase the cultures and traditions of the Guarani as along with them came Jesuits seeking souls to convert to Christianity.
The Jesuits brought the Guarani out of the forests into planned settlements. This was in part to assist with the conversions and in part to protect them from bands of slave traders operating out the the Portuguese lands to the east.
In these settlements known as Missions the Jesuits set about converting the Guarani whilst at the same time recording and adapting local traditions and customs.
Skills such as carpentry and music were taught and the peoples legends were recorded in written form for the first time.
They also brought new foods which had never before been seen in the region. Amongst these were cheese and chicken eggs.
The cheese and eggs were added to the chipa recipe and it took on the form which has been maintained until today.
That is the baked cheese filled rolls that are seem everywhere in Paraguay. Most commonly a sausage shaped portion is rolled out and then wrapped round like a bagel for baking.
A freshly baked chipa has a crunchy exterior and a soft chewy interior filled with sort Paraguayan cheese.
One noticeable change that has occurred since the chipa took on it’s modern form is that these days corn flour is as likely to be used as cassava flour.
Another is that over time a number of variations have been created. Amongst these are Chipa So’o, with a meat filling, Chipa 4 cheeses, with other cheeses in addition to the traditional Paraguayan cheese and the bite size Chipitas which fill the same niche as crisps and peanuts.
An example of a recipe would be mix 500 grams of cassava flour, 500 grams of corn flour and a teaspoon of salt in a large bowl. Then mix in 125 grams of butter. Once that is done then whisk in 4 eggs and half a cup of milk. After that cheese is added. Either 250 grams of Paraguayan cheese or another soft cheese.
The dough will now be ready to roll out into sausages about 20 cm long which on a baking tray. These can be wrapped round into the shape of bagels. Leave everything to rest for half an hour before placing in a hot oven.
In about 15 minutes the chipas should be baked. They will be hard on the outside and soft and chewy within. Fresh from the oven whilst they are still warm is then the best way to eat them.
Once the chipas have been prepared they must be baked. This can be done in an oven, but the proper method is in a wood burning oven built outdoors for just that purpose.
This oven is dome shaped, made of clay and lined with bricks. It is called a tatakua and almost every house has one in their garden. A hot fire is burnt within it and the embers are swept out and trays of chipa placed inside with the entrance sealed behind them. The heat inside the tatakua will be enough to bake several trays.
Incidentally the tatakua has exactly the same dome shaped form as nests of the hornero who often likes to build his nest nearby.
Chipa has become one of the classic street and snack foods of Paraguay.
The many snack food stalls in every town all sell chipas in one form or another. Additionally street sellers with large flat wicker baskets on their heads full of chipa are a common sight. Sometimes these have been made by a larger business but most often they are fresh home made produce.
A chipa out of a wicker basket is a safe to eat as anything found in a restaurant and as more often than not they have been made by the person who is selling them come with a personal, home made touch.
Bakeries specialising in chipa are also to be found all along the major roads that cross Paraguay. There cars can stop and buy some snacks to eat as they travel onwards.
Additionally each of these bakeries has its neatly dressed staff in uniforms showing which bakery they work for.
These women, and they are always women, travel backwards and forwards on the buses selling chipas to the passengers. Their sense of balance is quite something to be seen as even on the most crowded buses they are able to work their way through the bodies with their basket held up above all the heads with one hand and never drop anything.
Being older than the country itself and being available on almost every street corner it should come as no surprise to learn that the chipa and it’s baking has blended with many parts of Paraguayan culture.
For example on religious holidays such as Good Friday and San Blas when it is traditional not to cook meals chipa is baked instead.
Houses will spend many hours preparing and then baking a large number of chipas. Enough for the family and take as gifts to friends and neighbours.
Furthermore one of the dances done by girls at every school event involves chipas. Here the girls in full national dress perform holding wicker baskets representing baskets of chipas on their heads. This dance is almost always done by the youngest girls so I suspect is also probably one of the simplest to learn. Additionally as they are all trying to hold onto their baskets keeping everyone in line is probably a little easier.
There is even a National Day of the Chipa. That is August 9th.
And just one final thing. If you do ever get the chance to try chipa eat it there and then. A warm fresh chipa is delicious but if left to the next day it will be tough and solid.