Un Bataburillo de la Cocina Paraguaya

The 24 traditional regional dishes that were on offer during July and August, 2014 at the food fair in Asunción’s Plaza Uruguaya. Each item was 10,000 guaranis, roughly NT$63 a piece.

There’s something satisfying about reduplication. Words like pell-mell, riffraff and whippersnapper just sound good. Johnson called them “low words.” Blackadder called him a “pompous ass with sweaty dewflaps.”

Hodepodge is another good one and so is the Spanish equivalent batiburillo. The word suits Asunción, a city of jumbles. Passionate indolence. Teutonic Guarani-speaking Ladinos. Dark and dusty bookshops on hot winter days, where crappy romances mingle with Colorado Party periodicals; and unfinished riverside shanties with brand new Claro satellite dishes jutting from the sides, bright red like wallopped ears.

Like hodepodge or hotchpotch in the UK, a Paraguayan batiburillo is a kind of odds-and-ends stew. In both countries, this original, literal sense of the word now enjoys limited currency. The average Londoner is as clueless about hotching a decent potch as Asuncenos are about the finer details of a batiburillo.

It was by pure chance that I found this dish at a food fair in Asunción’s Plaza Uruguaya last summer (winter, there). Batiburillo is essentially an offal stew. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a massive fan of internal organs. So why do I continue to try this stuff during my travels? Mainly because pretty much every culture on Earth seems to incorporate innards into its cuisine which makes me think there’s something in it. These dishes also tend to be viewed (sometimes derisively) as peasant fare, which adds to the feeling that you’re getting an authentic taste of local tucker.

Top left: chastaka (foreground) and a bean soup (locro/lokro, I think).
Top right: The full spread of what I ordered, with batiburillo and chastaka in the cups and enrollados up front. Enrollados are a bit like a savoury swiss roll! The one on the left was beef (vaka enrollado) and on the right, a kind of gelatinous pork skin enrollado (kure enrollado). Both great but probably not the best for the ticker! Of course, each item came with the obligatory stick of mandioca.
Bottom left: Regional chorizos and saussies on the grill. All good!
Bottom right: The kure enrollado again.

Native to the Misiones department of southern Paraguay, Batiburillo is indeed a rural dish. It was apparently created by a Basque fellow named Don Sebastian Sasiain, though I can’t find any other info. about him. The stew  can contain all kinds of organs from all kinds of animals and also often includes tongue, which I don’t half mind. The rest of the ingredients are pretty basic: chopped onions, garlic, paprika, lard and wine. Some recipes call for a kind of hot pepper native to the Chaco region, which are dubbed puta parió (something like “son of a bitch” as this is this the exclamation you’ll make when you eat them) but, like most of what I ate in South America, the version I tried was not in the least spicy.  It was, however, far and away the tastiest offal dish I’ve ever sampled – basically just a rich stew with chewy bits and pieces in it.

Traditionally, batiburillo is served in a cup or small dish with a couple of lengths of mandioca (cassava) sticking out. As mandioca comes with almost everything in Paraguay, I found it rather amusing that most descriptions mention this accompaniment like it’s something special. Not coming with mandioca, now that would have been weird.

Another dish at the fair that came in a disposable cup  was chastaka. This has to rank as among the best chance discoveries I’ve made in years of trying pretty much anything on my travels. It’s shredded, sun cured meat, boiled with egg and, again, simple spicing. Given the white plastic receptacle and the colour and stringy texture of the meat, there were unavoidable overtones of binglang gob but one mouthful dispelled these. Chastaka is bloody lush! Online descriptions credit chastaka as having originated with the Incas. I can’t find any authoritative confirmation of this but if it’s true, I wonder how it made its way down to Paraguay.

Supper at the famous Lido Bar in downtown Asunción.
Top left: My waitress, Hilaria. In the unlikely event that I ever have a daughter, that will be her name.
Top right: sopa paraguaya. As you can see, it’s not soup at all but a really rich, heavy cornbread. Stodge is the surprising standard around Latin America. I actually really liked the sopa but it probably wasn’t a wise choice as the Lido’s famous creamy fish soup comes with a doughy bread roll. Washed down with a couple of large bottles of local ale, this stuff is a surefire route to acid reflux.
Bottom left: The aforementioned creamy fish soup, recommended for which the Lido is renowned. Simple but delish.

There seemed to be a distinctly lemony taste to my serving, though I haven’t seen anything like that mentioned in the recipes I’ve come across. I quizzed one of the guys at the stall using the time-honoured technique of uttering the key word (in this case “ingredients”) in a “Spanish accent.”

“Lots of different things,” he said gruffly, without looking up.

“Lemon?” I tried.

“Many things. Many things.”

If I hadn’t been wandering through the Plaza Uruguaya en route to making enquiries about buses to Ciudad Del Este, I would never have known about the food fair. As helpful as Violeta at Hostel Black Cat was, she didn’t seem to know about this event, sponsored by the Asuncion culture and tourism board. From the beginning of July to the end of August, the fair spotlighted 24 different traditional Paraguayan dishes. I wish I could have tried them all.

Street meat!
Top left: hunks of prime Paraguayan beef on the grill outside a restaurant on the corner of Silvio Pettirossi.
Top right: Typical street fare: a croqueta, an empanada and, naturally, a couple of sticks of mandioca, just in case you need a tad more stodge.
Bottom left: Asaditos, barbecued meat on sticks, similar in appearance, if not taste to the skewered meat items you get in Taiwan (串).
Bottom right: A vendor selling various kinds of sausages outside the Mercado Cuatro.

I have to admit to feeling pretty smug that none of the Paraguayans I’ve asked seems to know much about either batiburillo or chastaka. When I asked for recommendations on interesting local specialities while in Asuncion, I got mainly shrugs or sopa paraguaya.

From what I can determine, the 2014 food fair was the first such event. A long lunchtime queue showed it was proving popular with Asuncenos, and a local news crew was on site to record their glowing talk-ups. I’m not sure  whether it will become a regular fixture, but if it does and you find yourself in Asunción between July and August, get yourself down there for the real deal in Paraguayan cuisine.

***

This site contains recipes for lots of Paraguayan dishes but, be warned, they are rather stripped down. For bataburillo, we have four rather blunt steps: 1. Kill a cow and clean the innards. 2. Throw the offal in. 3. Season and cook in an iron pot. 4. Serve hot with, yup, mandioca. What could possible go wrong? Below these instructions is an embedded video of local cooks rustling up some batiburrillo (quite what the squeaky-voiced dread is up to is anyone’s guess) on local lifestyle programme Viva La Vida. There’s a certain kind of hoarse/broken voice that I just love the sound of in Spanish and the main cook lady here has it. For all I know it could sound dreadful to native speakers but there’s something comforting and salt-of-the-earthy about it to me.

And here is a woman cooking chastaka, described in the delightful guarani tongue. I’d really like to have a go at this but I’m wondering how to achieve the curing effect that they get with the meat. I know there are a lot of foreigners curing bacon and what-not these days. Maybe they could advise.

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author