The activities of Semana Santa (Holy Week) leading up to Easter Sunday in Paraguay are, for the most part, similar to those taking place in Catholic communities worldwide. There is one aspect of Paraguay´s Semana Santa, however, that sets the celebration apart from all other countries: chipa. Whether you are religious or not, if you are in Paraguay this week be prepared to consume copious amounts of chipa.
Wednesday of Semana Santa is without a doubt the most popular chipa-making day of the year. Throughout Paraguay tatakuas (brick ovens) are fired up, dough is kneaded into submission, and chipas are placed upon banana leaves and baked till crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. Here is an excellent photo essay on the entire process by Ana María Gómez Silgueira of ABC Color’s Gastronomia.com magazine (click for full view).
Hundreds of thousands of chipas will be made and consumed this week. Why is chipa made in such large quantities? The reasons are twofold. The first: Chipas baked on Wednesday (Miércoles Santo) will serve as snacks and meals for the following days during which, traditionally, there is minimal cooking (if any). The second: much of the chipa is intended for giving away to friends and family. Giving away homemade chipa is a sign of friendship and sharing. Throughout Semana Santa it seems the everyone is involved in this countrywide chipa exchange. Even if you are physically unable to consume all the chipa you are gifted (it´s very dense!) you will always remember the people who thought to share it with you.
Preparations for the chipa extravaganza begin well before Miércoles Santo. The most traditional chipa is made from corn flour, mandioca starch, pig fat, queso Paraguay, eggs and a dash of anis. In the countryside there remain people who go through the lengthy process of making both corn flour and mandioca starch by hand. For most it is more convenient to purchase them pre-made (much care must be taken in selecting cornflour as it goes rancid easily). Every year there are newspaper articles decrying rising prices as people hoard basic chipa ingredients in the weeks before Semana Santa. Upon opening my aunt´s refrigerator last week I was not surprised to find over 30 eggs awaiting their destinies as Semana Santa chipa. For those who don´t feel like sweating over a hot oven or tatakua there are now several chipa delivery services available.
For Paraguayans abroad missing out on the chipa making and eating is rough. Fortunately it is possible to make chipa without some of the more traditional elements of chipa-making (think the tatakua and pig fat). Courtesy of Paraguayan blogger “Gabriela, Clavo y Canela” here is a recipe for making chipa outside of Paraguay. Whether you are in the “exterior” or “interior” you can enjoy your chipa for Semana santa!