Like Uruguay, Paraguay is a (probably thoroughly amazing) country that I visited far too quickly. Back when I was dumb and young (things have changed enormously: now I’m dumb and approaching middle age), I passed through Paraguay for about 24 delirious hours, while riding the cheapest series of cross-continent buses I could find between Sao Paulo, Brazil and Santiago, Chile.
I was exhausted, confused, and nearly broke when I passed through Paraguay—not unhappy, but definitely disoriented. I had been traveling for nearly ten months, starting with study-abroad programs in Russia and Chile, followed by a month of hitchhiking in Argentina and two months spent chasing a beautiful Brazilian to Bahia and back.
By the time I left Brazil, my brain was thoroughly pureéd from immersing myself in Russian, and then Spanish, and then Portuguese. By the time I got to the Brazil-Paraguay border, I couldn’t figure out whether people on the bus (a mix of friendly Brazilians and Paraguayans) were speaking Spanish or Portuguese to me. It was hilarious—I could understand both languages, but couldn’t distinguish them from each other, and had no idea whether Spanish or Portuguese would pop out of my mouth when somebody spoke to me. I think the other passengers thought I was some sort of babbling South American idiot, instead of just a confused visitor from the Midwest.
So when I arrived for my overnight stay in Asunción, I was afraid to speak to anybody, since I’d apparently lost all control over my tongue. I slunk meekly out of the bus station, bought some bread and lunchmeat from a grocery store, and went to bed early in the cheapest (darkest, mildewy-est, probably roachy-est) motel I could find. I woke up the next morning, wandered around the city for an hour or two, and hopped on a bus out of the country. That’s it. I have a vague memory of buying an empanada and a cold cup of tereré (Paraguay’s version of Argentine yerba mate, a strong, loose green tea) at the bus station, but I otherwise blew it: I didn’t really see anything in Asunción, and I definitely missed out on the country’s culinary wonders.
So in a tiny little way, I felt like I was making up for missed opportunities when I went to I Love PY Bakery in Queens. I walked in, gazed at the smallish steam table and pastry case, and decided to order… one of everything, pretty much.
I started with sopa paraguaya ($3) and some Paraguayan soup ($5.95). (That last sentence is either conclusive proof that I have the brain the size of a walnut, or that something is funny about the way Paraguayans name their national dishes. Or both. You decide.) Vori vori, arguably the national dish of Paraguay, is an astoundingly tasty Paraguayan soup, located somewhere at the intersection of Mexican posole and Colombian ajiaco. Vori vori (loose translation from Guaraní: “lots of little balls of dough”) features lots of little balls (I thought it would be awesome to write “little balls” three times in the same sentence… see what I just did there?) of cornmeal held together by cheese; imagine small, corn-based balls of gnocchi, and you’ll be close. The little balls of cornmeal are served in a salty, thick chicken broth, spiced with cilantro, onion, garlic, tomato, oregano, and—if you’re lucky—a chicken drumstick. Vori vori quickly jumped to the shortlist of my favorite soups of all time, somewhere above ajiaco and below Burmese mohinga.
To accompany my Paraguayan little ball soup, I ordered sopa paraguaya (literal translation: “Paraguayan soup”), which is NOT actually a soup. (Got that?) Sopa paraguaya is actually an insanely dense, moist brick of cornbread—not unlike the North American variety, except that it’s made with tons of milk and lard. The loaf I ate was roughly the size of four standard slices of bread stacked on top of each other… but easily four times denser.
Despite the delicious lardy heft of the sopa paraguaya, I thought it would be stupid to leave a thoroughly lovable Paraguayan bakery after only eating two dishes, so I decided to raid the pastry case. I ordered a fried empanada filled with corn and something resembling a white cheese sauce. I also snagged a baked empanada, filled with spinach, carrots, peas, and minced boiled eggs; the flaky dough was absolutely amazing, similar to a beautiful, fresh croissant. The chipa so’o was even better: a dense, delicious ball of cornmeal, stuffed with peppery ground beef and more minced, boiled eggs.
I fell madly in love with the chipa so’o, and was convinced that the secret to the dense-but-moist cornmeal dough was… drum roll please… lard! The wonderful sopa paraguaya was also made with lard. Is it safe to conclude that that the delicious, flaky spinach empanada also was blessed by a few scoops of lard?
So I guess I Love PY Bakery loves lard. And since I love I Love PY Bakery, I guess that means that I love lard, too. Who knew?
I Love PY Bakery
43-16 Greenpoint Avenue, Queens
Subway: 46th Street (7 train)