“Chipa, chipa, chipa!!” I hear them shouting as they walk by with their delicious and freshly baked Paraguayan bread. The chiperas with their blue and white uniforms walk up and down the street carrying their chipa baskets on their heads. It’s such a classic image here in Paraguay. And oh how I love chipa!! It can best be described as a cheesy bread baked with manioc flower and some anis seeds. It goes perfectly with a coffee or cocido (hot maté tea) and can be eaten for breakfast or for ‘merienda’ (afternoon snack). Chipa is traditionally baked in a rounded open air brick oven called the ‘tatakua’. They are sold everywhere in Paraguay, from street corners to highways to cafés.
The bond between Paraguayans and chipa is so profound that they even just released a new romantic comedy entitled ‘La Chiperita’. I went with my Paraguayan family to see this cute film in an old cinema in downtown Asuncion. We had the movie theater all to ourselves at the 1pm showing. And it was such a wonderful film! The story is about a ‘chipera’; a young girl who sells chipa with her mom and friend every day at the toll booth of a highway. They wait for cars to arrive and while the cars are waiting in line or paying the toll, the chiperas offer them freshly baked warm chipa for the road. It’s a wonderful thing which I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing myself.
In the movie, the young chipera falls in love with the toll booth worker, Walter, who lives in the same village. But their love is ever so complicated, and the movie demonstrates the anguish and heart break the chipera faces as she tries to get up the courage to confess her love to Walter. It also gives the viewer a glimpse into the life of a low income Paraguayan family, who while they are happy, still struggle to make ends meet every day. The main character lives with her mom in a small country house. Her father passed away and her only brother is away in Spain trying to make a living for their family. The chipa is their passion that keeps them going.
The movie is humble, well filmed, funny, dramatic and romantic: a great combination for my taste! Since most people who live in villages outside of Asuncion speak in Guarani (the native language), the movie is actually in Guarani with Spanish subtitles. You can watch the trailer here. I hope they add English subtitles and that it’s shown abroad. It’s a great addition to the growing list of Paraguayan films getting international recognition.
After watching them make and bake the chipas every morning with lots of love and passion, it was obvious that we had to go eat some chipa immediately after the movie was over. There are several chipa chains here, but one of the better ones is called Ña Eustaquia. They make several kinds of fresh chipa, some with extra cheese, some with meat; there’s even a ‘light’ version. You can also get ‘chipitas’ which is a small, chip-like version sold in bags. Some of the Ña Eustaquia locations are beautiful cafés decorated with traditional Paraguayan flair such as in this picture.
Alas, there is no shortage of chipa in this country. There’s even a chipa truck that drives through our neighbourhood everyday (imagine an ice cream truck), with loudspeakers yelling ‘CHIPA BARRERO!’. Unfortunately we’ve never managed to catch them driving by, but I will continue to wait patiently to catch them one day and enjoy a warm chipa in the comfort of my Paraguayan home. Now that I’ve told you about what a chipa fan I am, here’s a recipe. Disclaimer: I have not tried it yet myself. Enjoy!
250 gms fat (shortening, butter, lard, etc.)
500 gms grated “Paraguayan cheese” (or another salty, softish white cheese)
1 tbsp anis
1 tbsp rough salt
1 c milk
1¼ kilo manioc flour
1. Beat the fat, eggs, and cheese together.
2. Add the anis, salt dissolved in milk, and flour, stir together.
3. Knead well, although not too long.
4. Form chipas, which are usually the shape and size of a bagel.
5. Place on a buttered and floured pan, bake at 250 degrees C for about 25 minutes.