No, sopa paraguaya is not a soup! It is a traditional cheesy cornbread recipe from Paraguay.
History of sopa paraguaya
Indeed, sopa paraguaya is anything but a soup! The origin of the recipe dates back to the tradition of the Guarani indigenous people to eat meals prepared with corn flour (or mandioca, tapioca flour) wrapped in güembé or banana leaves cooked on hot embers. From this basic recipe, the Spaniards introduced cheese, eggs and milk.
There are various stories about the origin of the name of this iconic Paraguayan recipe.
The first one is attributed to Don Carlos Antonio López, who was the president of Paraguay between 1841 and 1862. President López liked tykuetï, a white soup that was prepared with milk, cheese, egg and corn flour. At the time, it was a dish that was often served at Paraguayan tables.
One day, the machu (cook) made a mistake and added more cornmeal to the soup than usual. The tykuetï was therefore too thick. But the main issue was that there was no time to make another soup.
This is when she decided to put the preparation in an iron skillet and cooked it in the tatakua (“fire hole”, similar to a tandoor oven). The end result was a “solid soup”. When the president tasted it, he loved it so much that he immediately named it sopa paraguaya (Paraguayan soup).
A variant of this version relates that President López had invited ambassadors from other countries to dine and, as the dish was served, he presented the dish as the “Paraguayan soup”.
Years later, his son Francisco Solano López, also president of Paraguay from 1862 to 1870, was serving the sopa paraguaya karaí in memory of his father, and the sopa paraguay palaciega (palacial Paraguayan soup) in honor of his wife Elisa Alicia Lynch.
Another version relates that when the Spaniards arrived to Guarani lands, the natives received them with honors and offered them their best food to entertain them: game meat. When the meat ran out, and as the guests were still hungry, the Guaranis served them the food they usually ate, which was made with corn flour (or cassava) wrapped in banana leaves, cooked on fire. As they served their food, they shouted “So’o opa”, which is Guarani for “the meat is finished”. The Spaniards understood “sopa” and the rest is history!
Sopa is similar to another corn-based Paraguayan traditional dish called chipa guazu, with the exception that the latter is made with fresh corn. The consistency of sopa paraguaya can be a little bit like a cheesy soufflé and less like a savory cornbread. It can be served as an appetizer or accompanied with red or white meat. It is also often served with soups such as puchero paraguayo, a traditional beef soup.
If you want to make it more like a soufflé, you must separate the eggs, then beat the egg yolks and egg whites separately. The beaten egg whites are then folded into the preparation. This results in a lighter and slightly more airy version of sopa paraguaya.
There are a number of Paraguayan recipes using staple ingredients such as corn flour or queso paraguayo (the ubiquitous fresh Paraguayan cheese). Tortilla paraguaya, for example, is more akin to an omelette that is thickened with standard wheat flour, as opposed to the Spanish version of tortilla, which is often prepared with potatoes.
Sopa paraguaya is delicious cheesy cornbread in which the cooked onions and the grated cheese give a nice extra touch. The combination makes this Paraguayan national dish very unique compared to other versions of cornbread, like American cornbread. We ate our sopa paraguaya for a weekend brunch, with a salad on the side.
- 2½ cups corn flour (extra fine cornmeal)
- 2 cups milk
- 4 onions
- 12 oz. queso paraguay (or 9 oz/300g mozzarella and 3 oz/100g grated parmesan)
- 4 eggs
- Black pepper
- Vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 350 F / 180 C.
- Thinly slice the onion and fry them in a large skillet with a little oil until translucent for about 8 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
In a bowl, whisk the eggs until they become foamy.
- In a separate bowl, add the corn flour, then the onion and the milk, and mix.
- Add the eggs and the cheese cut into very small cubes or grated. Mix well.
- Grease a baking dish with oil and pour the mixture in it.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until the surface is golden brown. When you poke the sopa paraguaya with a toothpick, it should come out clean.
- Let cool and cut into individual squares.