by Christie Hagerman, Asuncion, Paraguay
Next week everyone will be eating chipa for Semana Santa (“Holy Week,” the few days before Easter). It’s a type of bread that gets eaten as breakfast, snack, whatever. Yesterday, I met a 13-year old boy on the bus who attends school from 6 till 11 AM while his
mom is making chipa (pronounce it CHEE puh). Then he takes the bus and a basket full of Mom’s chipa to a town 30 miles away–almost two hours on the bus in high traffic–to sell at stop lights. Every single day. Well, he stays home on Sunday, but you get the idea.
Thirteen years old, did I mention?
His basket is a round, flat one, about 2 feet in diameter. He stacks it high with chipa and balances it on his head. He told me he’s never had it fall off his head but I’m not sure he’d admit it if he had. 😉
Along the main roads of Paraguay, especially where there are bus stops, you’ll find folks weaving through traffic, waving cars down or climbing on the buses to sell chipa. You’re driving in the middle of nowhere on a long road to the next town and out of the blue there’s a chipa gal on the side of the road, flagging you down–like the Paraguayan version of a drive-thru. People who sell chipa are called chiperos (men) or chiperas (women). The chiperas, unfortunately, have a shady reputation, and being a chipera is looked at as the worst sort of job. I’ve heard parents using that job to harass their kids about an education, saying something akin to our “What!? You wanna dig ditches all your life?”
Chiperas on the roadside wear special uniforms to identify them, usually a very short skirt, a white apron, and pantyhose. They are the only Paraguay women that I ever see in pantyhose/stockings. Men seem more likely to have the big basket on their heads, balanced on a
rolled-up hand towel. The chiperas usually carry them in a more traditional basket with a handle.
Sometimes chipa is shaped into various things, although I haven’t figured out yet why they make the animal shapes. During Holy Week, sometimes you find chipa shaped like a palm branch. At ungodly early hours, small trucks with campershells make their way through all the neighborhoods, their beds stacked full of chipa. They use loudspeakers to announce their arrival. Many of them blare out that they are selling chipa barrero, supposedly a bigger, better version. Imagine being woken from sleep before sunrise by a man in a truck just outside your window at about a million decibels of sound, screaming, “CHIPA BAREEEEEEEEERRO! BAREEEEEEERO!” If you are speaking in Guaraní, the word CHEEpuh becomes sheePAH. Here’s the recipe, although further from the city, I’ve noticed that people make it without much cheese and form it in the shape of a doughnut, unless it’s a roadside stand. It’s harder in the doughnut shape, and the cheese makes it SO yummy, so I prefer this recipe, shaped into dinner rolls or long oval rolls. Give it a try!
250 grams of pork fat (or butter, Crisco, etc.)
500 grams of soft cheese (Mexican works well, if you can’t find Paraguayan cheese)
1 cup milk
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp anise seed
1 kg mandioca, yuca, or cassava starch
Mix the fat, the cheese, and the eggs.
Dissolve the salt in the milk, then slowly add the starch followed by the anise seeds.
Knead the whole batch till it’s nice and smooth.
Form either ping-pong sized balls or donut shapes and bake 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees (slightly less for the donut-shaped ones), until the outside is browned a bit and kinda crusty. (The inside remains SLIGHTY doughy, so don’t try to cook it dry.) Eat ’em while they’re warm because they are gooey and soft inside. If they get cold, the crust can be quite hard to bite.
It’s baked in a brick oven (tatakua) here, but if you don’t have one in your backyard, oh well. Just use your electric oven and pretend it’s a tatakua. I won’t tell.
If you want to follow Paraguayan tradition, make up a whole slew of these and take them to all your neighbors for Holy Week. Just do it after the sun rises, and refrain from yelling, “CHIPAAAAA!” please.
Our thanks to Christie Hagerman for her great insight into daily life in Paraguay. If you are interested in knowing more about the Hagerman family, Ken, Christie, Camille and Caroline are missionaries in Paraguay. Their web site is http://hagermans.blogspot.com.ar/p/about-us.html. And if you try the Chipa! recipe I hope you’ll let us know.