Today is Independence Day in Paraguay. Paraguay is a landlocked country in the center of South America bordered by Argentina, Brazil, and Bolivia. Before the arrival of the Spanish it was inhabited by the Guaraní, and Guaraní is still spoken widely in Paraguay to this day. Along with Spanish it is an official language of Paraguay. When the Spanish arrived, the territory was included in the Viceroyalty of Peru which governed almost all of the Spanish Empire’s holdings in South America from the capital, Lima. But when the viceroyalty was split in two in 1776 it became part of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata governed from Buenos Aires. Because of Paraguay’s remoteness and lack of economic potential at the time it was generally ignored by the Spanish crown, and, therefore, had little money for the military. In consequence the nation was able to declare independence from Spain on May 15 1811 without bloodshed (very different from other countries in the viceroyalty). When it was clear to the Spanish governor, Bernardo de Velasco, that revolution was imminent he disbanded his small garrison of soldiers rather than fight because he knew he would lose. Independence Day is marked in the cities with parades, music, dancing, and fireworks, and in the countryside with family barbecues.
The original Spanish settlers were mostly male soldiers who married Guaraní women, creating a mestizo people and culture. Currently 93% of Paraguayans are mestizo, making Paraguay one of the most ethnically homogenous in Latin America. The culture of Paraguay is, therefore, a fusion of indigenous and Spanish elements. 80% of the population speaks both Guaraní and Spanish.
The flag of Paraguay is unique for a national flag in that it has different symbols on front and back. The two sides are essentially the same, based on the French flag, but the central motif is different on front and back.
The national dish of Paraguay is sopa paraguaya (Paraguayan soup), which, despite the name, is not a soup but a cornbread flavored with cheese and onions. It is used as an accompaniment to soups, stews, and grilled meats, or it can be eaten alone. It is essential food on Independence Day.
8 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 cup farmer’s cheese
1 cup grated muenster or other mild cheese
2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 16 ounce can cream-style corn (or 2 cups fresh corn kernels)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
6 eggs, separated
Heat half the butter in a skillet and cook the onions over moderate heat until tender but not brown and set aside.
Combine the remaining butter with the farmer’s cheese in a bowl and mix until thoroughly combined.
Add the muenster, onions, cornmeal, corn, salt, milk, egg yolks, and mix thoroughly.
Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form and fold them into the batter.
Pour the batter into a greased and floured 10 inch by 13 inch (25 cm x 30 cm) baking pan and bake in a preheated 400F (200C) oven for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.