If you’ve ever eaten in a Paraguayan restaurant, you’ll know that Paraguay traditional food is quite heavy.
Historians say that this stodgy Paraguayan cuisine was created in the aftermath of the disastrous War of the Triple Alliance, when about 70 percent of the male population of Paraguay was killed, including many child soldiers.
Those who were left had to rely on calorically dense meals to make it through the food shortages. Not surprisingly, these heavy, high-calorie dishes typically contain lots of animal products.
Paraguayan cuisine is one of the least vegan-friendly cuisines that I’ve come across in my travels around the world. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t eat well as a vegan in Paraguay.
I certainly never went hungry when exploring this little-known country, and on a few occasions, I enjoyed some really excellent plant-based meals.
There are even a few vegan restaurants in Paraguay! That wasn’t the case a few years ago, so things are changing for the better. Although my favorite restaurant in the whole country was a 60-year-old diner that serves both vegan and non-vegan dishes.
Not many travelers make it to Paraguay. Those that do will step back in time and experience a friendly, laidback South American country that’s been virtually untouched by tourism.
Vegan-Friendly Restaurants and Eateries in Asunción
Asunción, the capital of Paraguay, does have several vegetarian restaurants and even one fully vegan restaurant. The trouble is, the city is quite spread out, and none of these fully veg eateries are very close to the main attractions in the city center.
Rather than wasting time and energy figuring out the bus routes to try to reach these places, we opted to look for vegan options in the center of Asunción, close to where we were staying. Thankfully, we came across one absolute gem of a place, and a few other passable options.
If you only have time for one meal in Asunción, make sure you eat that meal at Bolsi. In fact, even if you have time for 10 meals in Asunción, you might decide you want every single one of them to be at Bolsi. I certainly wouldn’t blame you.
Bolsi is not only the best Paraguayan restaurant for vegans in the center of Asunción, it’s possibly the best Paraguayan restaurant. Period.
This justly popular diner has been serving up no-nonsense food since 1960 and is a real institution in Paraguay. You might expect that a traditional place like this would be a nightmare for vegans, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In the back pages of the Bolsi menu, you’ll find a dedicated vegan section with more than a dozen options. These include international fare, such as hummus, veggie burgers and chop suey, as well as veganized versions of some traditional Paraguayan dishes.
While I was excited about the chance to taste some local specialties (more on those below), I ended up preferring the international dishes. There are some intriguing fusion dishes on the menu, like the “sushi roll de hummus”. Sushi and hummus are two of my favorite foods, so I really dug this one!
Bolsi is open 24/7, but it gets very busy at meal times. Come early, and if you don’t see any seats available, ask to put your name on the waiting list. Their pretty efficient at moving people in and out, so the wait shouldn’t be too long.
This is a Korean restaurant in the city center that offers a pay-by-weight buffet. The staff knows exactly what vegan means and are able to point out which dishes are suitable for vegans.
When I visited, the vegan dishes included seaweed soup, a few different salads, tofu, spring rolls, and some noodle-based dishes. There’s a sizable Korean community in Asunción, so this is a good place to come for authentic Korean fod. A full plate will set you back about 25,000 guaraníes.
If you’ve come from Brazil and are missing the tapioca and açaí that’s so plentiful there, you’re in luck. This cheerful, casual eatery offers both of these Brazilian specialties in vegan versions.
In case you’re not familiar with the tapioca of Brazil, it’s a type of pancake made from … you guessed it … tapioca flour. There are several vegan fillings available, such as tomatoes and palm hearts.
We came here just for the açaí – a fruit from the Amazon rainforest that is whipped up into a frozen treat. Think “nice cream” made from bananas, but deep purple. The açaí at Quiero Fruta is not as good as in Brazil, but it’s still a fun and refreshing treat. Ask for it without the condensed milk and powdered milk.
By the way, the Beyond Burger has not yet made it to the Asunción branch of TGI Friday’s, which is just next door to Quiero Fruta. This branch does have a veggie burger, but the bun is not vegan.
This gelateria had four vegan sorbet flavors when we visited: lemon, peach, coconut and pineapple. The pineapple was incredibly icy, but the coconut sorbet was rich and creamy and had obviously been made with coconut milk.
This trendy café serves what is considered to be the best coffee in town. I’m not a coffee drinker, so I wouldn’t know, but it’s worth noting that they do offer various types of plant milk for their coffee drinks. We were hoping to get sandwiches here, but apparently their sandwich bread contains eggs.
They do have an alfajor (a chocolate-covered cookie) that is both vegan and gluten-free. To be honest, it was quite dry and not very good. I’ve had much better vegan alfajores in Brazil, which is actually a very vegan-friendly country these days. I’ll be writing more about Brazil soon, so watch this space.
We didn’t eat here, but I did check out the menu at this Italian restaurant on Calle Estrella. They offer a couple of salads and pasta dishes that are already vegan or can easily be veganized. And of course, there’s always the standard fallback option for hungry vegans – pizza without cheese.
The food court on the top floor of this centrally located shopping mall has a few vegan options, listed below. There’s also a supermarket on the basement level. Shopping there feels like walking into a bomb shelter, and it doesn’t have much in the way of vegan goods. Still, if you need to stock up for a long bus journey, this is the best place to do it.
It’s not on the menu, but this place does serve falafel. Ask for a “lomito árabe” (a gyro-style wrap) with falafel, and ask them to hold the garlic sauce, which is mayo-based. The sandwich was a bit dry, but if you add lots of pico de gallo it’s not bad. They also make Lebanese pizzas.
This is a Chinese buffet with a few vegan options. The food is all on display at the counter, so it’s easy to point and ask which ones contain animals products.
You might think that an eatery specializing in “healthy food” would have plenty of vegan dishes, but sadly not. The one vegan option here is the ensalada vital, which comes with avocado, nuts and chia seeds and would probably be more satiating than most other salads you’ll find in Paraguay.
What to See and Eat in Paraguay Beyond Asunción
Outside of Asunción, vegan options are pretty limited. Nevertheless, there is a small but growing vegan movement here, so you will find a few vegetarian and vegan restaurants even in second-tier cities.
In Ciudad del Este, for example, there is a Loving Hut branch quite close to the bus station. The buffet includes a mix of international and Paraguayan dishes, and you can just to either pay by weight or pay a fixed price for all you can eat.
Encarnación has two vegetarian and one fully vegan restaurant, which are all pretty centrally located. Check HappyCow for listings. While the city itself doesn’t have many attractions that would interest travelers, it’s often used as a base for visiting the Jesuit missions in nearby La Santísima Trinidad de Paraná and Jesús de Tavarangue.
The ruins of these 16th-century missions are Paraguay’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site and are the most interesting historical attraction in the country.
We chose to stay in Trinidad itself, which is a very peaceful, quiet town that offers a peek into rural life in Paraguay. Of course, our dining options were quite limited there, but we didn’t starve.
On our first night, the owners of Posada Cafeteria María where we stayed made us a simple meal of vegetables and rice.
The next day, we asked if they could make something with legumes, and they served us a more satisfying bean and vegetable soup. We also found spaghetti with tomato sauce on the menu at the nearby Hotel Restaurante Las Ruínas.
If you want more varied and interesting plant-based meals, then you’re better off staying in Encarnación. We were quite happy with our choice to base ourselves in Trinidad, though. The food we ate there, while not very exciting, was perfectly adequate.
The best part about staying in Trinidad is that you get to see the “sound and light show” performed inside the ruins every evening, which is free, as it’s included in the entrance ticket.
This sounds cheesy, but the name is misleading. It’s not really a show, but rather a guided tour service that allows you to view the ruins when they’re lit up at night. This was my favorite part of the whole experience, and I highly recommend it.
The easiest way to visit the mission at nearby Jesús is to go by taxi. The return trip from Trinidad costs 60,000 guaraníes, and the driver will wait at the site for 30 minutes or so, which is long enough to see the ruins.
On weekdays there is a bus, but not on Sundays. The Jesús mission is bit smaller than the Trinidad site, but it has some interesting features, such as the Moorish-influenced arched doorways on the façade of the church.
Paraguay Traditional Food – Veganized!
When researching the typical food in Paraguay before my trip, I couldn’t find a single dish in Paraguayan cuisine that was vegan. There were a few dishes that were possibly vegetarian, such as vori vori soup and the ubiquitous Paraguayan chipa, but they all contained eggs and/or cow’s milk.
So, I didn’t expect to be able to experience traditional Paraguay food, but I was wrong! The fabulous Bolsi, mentioned above, has several veganized versions of Paraguayan specialty dishes on its menu.
I’ll be honest; I didn’t like most of them. I found them to be pretty dry and bland. The bland part is perhaps not that surprising, since Paraguayans generally do not like spicy food, but this stuff was just tasteless.
Since Bolsi’s other vegan dishes are so delicious, I can’t blame it on the chef. Either the dishes themselves are just not up my alley, or they don’t translate very well into vegan versions. Or maybe I just don’t love Paraguay cuisine.
The name of this dish literally translates as “Paraguayan soup”, but don’t be fooled. It’s not a soup at all. Instead, it’s more like a dense, savory cake. The traditional version is made with corn flour, onions, eggs, cheese and milk, but the one at Bolsi is purely plant-based.
It reminded me of the cornbread that’s popular in the southern United States, only drier. Even though I grew up in Alabama, I’ve never been a fan of cornbread, so it’s probably no surprise that I didn’t like sopa paraguaya much either.
The is a pan-fried savory pancake of sorts, normally made with cassava and cheese. There was no detectable vegan cheese in this one, so I guess it was just cassava. I did like the mbeju better than the sopa paraguaya, but I still wouldn’t order it again.
Before I tell you about chipá guasu, let me first explain about chipá. A chipa or chipá is a small round bread roll, often with a hole in the middle like a bagel.
It’s made with cassava flour and various non-vegan ingredients (cheese, milk, eggs, butter, and sometimes lard), and it’s sold absolutely everywhere in Paraguay. When traveling around the country by bus, you won’t have to travel far before seeing a woman with a basket hopping on the bus to sell these to passengers.
Chipá guasu is something a bit different, though I didn’t realize this when I ordered one as takeaway from Bolsi, intending to eat it during my next bus journey.
When I unwrapped it from its packaging, I thought the staff had mixed up my order and given me another sopa paraguaya instead. Chipá guasu, as it turns out, is a savory corn cake that looks and tastes almost identical to sopa paraguaya.
The main difference is that chipá guasu is made with whole kernels of corn rather than milled corn flour. It’s traditionally baked in a mudbrick oven known as a tatacuá.
Mbeju, chipa and sopa paraguaya are all considered to be “tyra”, which is a term for foods eaten either as an accompaniment to a main dish or as a snack with a cup of cocido (see below).
So maybe that’s why I wasn’t a fan. I’d been eating them on their own, when that’s not really how they’re meant to be enjoyed.
Finally, a typical food of Paraguay that I actually liked! Of course, empanadas are not eaten only in Paraguay. They’re also popular in other Latin American countries.
Bolsi serves three vegan varieties of empanadas: tofu, soy meat, and eggplant. I tried the eggplant empanada, and it was definitely my favorite of all the traditional Paraguayan foods I tasted.
In other Paraguayan restaurants or street stalls, empanadas usually contain meat, though you might get lucky and come across fillings such as choclo (corn) or palmito (palm heart).
Accidentally Vegan Foods in Paraguay
While you probably won’t find any vegan main courses on a traditional Paraguay restaurant menu, it’s not too hard to find accidentally vegan snacks in the country’s shops and supermarkets.
The supermarket inside the Excelsior shopping mall has salted nuts, granola bars, cookies, and a local specialty called turron de maní (see below).
Mandioca, the most common side dish in Paraguayan restaurants, is also vegan. And of course, there’s plenty of tropical fruit too.
Turrón de Maní
While in most Spanish-speaking countries the word “turron” refers to nougat, which is not vegan, the turrón de maní in Paraguay is something very different. These bars of turrón are made from a mix of peanuts, sugar and salt.
For my American readers, think of the sugary peanut butter that’s inside a Reese’s peanut butter cup, and you’ll have an idea of what turrón de maní tastes like. It’s not quite as good as the dangerously addictive paçoca in neighboring Brazil, but it’s still pretty tasty.
Some do contain honey (miel de abeja), so check the ingredients list carefully if that’s something you don’t eat. If it says “miel de caña”, though, it’s fine, as that just means molasses.
You’ll see cassava root (mandioca) everywhere you go in Paraguay. It’s most commonly boiled and eaten as a side dish instead of bread. Restaurant staff will sometimes ask if you would like mandioca o pan (cassava or bread) with your meal.
Take a walk through a market in Paraguay, and you’re sure to find plenty of tropical and subtropical fruits, including some exotic varieties that you may never have seen before. One example is the spiky custard apple. In South America, it’s generally known as as “chirimoya”, but in Paraguay it’s sometimes called by its Guaraní name, araticú.
Pomelo is another popular locally-grown fruit in Paraguay. It’s a large citrus fruit similar to grapefruit and is in season from May to August.
In addition to eating these fruits whole, they can also be enjoyed in juices or smoothies. Not to keep tooting Bolsi’s horn (this post is not sponsored by Bolsi, I swear), but they make some delicious fruit juices.
The Paraguayan tea known as tereré is my far the most popular drink in the country. You might even call it a national obsession.
If you’ve been to neighboring Argentina, you’ll be familiar mate – a hot drink that’s sipped through a metal straw (called a bombilla) from a special cup (called a guampa) and is often drunk socially by passing the guampa around a circle of friends.
Tereré is essentially the same, as it’s prepared with yerba mate, the same plant used to make Argentinian mate. The big difference is that, while mate is a hot drink, tereré is prepared with ice water, making it a refreshing thirst quencher on those scorching hot days in Paraguay.
Everywhere you go, you’ll see Paraguayans carrying a thermos full of cold water that they use to top up their tereré throughout the day.
I had previously tasted mate and found it to be extremely bitter, so I expected tereré to be the same. But in fact, I found the taste of tereré to be much more palatable than mate. The tereré that I tried had mint added to the yerba mate, so maybe that’s what made it go down so much easier.
In any case, drinking tereré is a quintessential Paraguayan experience and one that you should really seek out while you’re in the country. Tereré is not often served in restaurants, so try to make friends with locals and get invited into one of their tereré circles. The social aspect is a huge part of the experience.
If you mention to a Paraguayan that you’d like to try their national drink, they’ll likely be happy to accommodate. And if all else fails, El Café de Acá in the Villa Morra district of Asunción is one of the few restaurants that reportedly does have tereré on the menu.
This is a hot tea prepared by taking the used yerba mate left over in the guampa after a tereré session and mixing it with sugar. This mix is then heated over charcoal to brown the sugar, and then boiling water is added. The result is a dark-colored liquid that could be mistaken for a cup of coffee. Sometimes milk is added, so ask for it without.
Do you know of any vegan Paraguayan foods that I missed? Let me know in the comments below!