Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sopa Paraguaia - Brazil's Soup-Thats-Not-A-Soup

In casual spoken Brazilian Portuguese the adjective paraguaio (which literally means "from Paraguay") has come to mean fake/pirated/smuggled/fraudulent. For example "Olha aquele cara, com o relógio Rolex paraguaio" can be translated into English as "Check out that guy with the fake Rolex watch." Brazil has an extended border with Paraguay, much of it unpatrolled wilderness and Paraguay has a reputation in Brazil of being the source of imitation goods, drugs and arms smuggled across that porous frontier. At famed Iguaçu Falls, the city of Ciudad del Este on the Paraguayan side of the Friendship Bridge brims with shops and stalls selling less-than-legitimate goods which Brazilians often buy, smuggle back to more-expensive Brazil, and then complain about the quality or authenticity.

Much of the frontier between Brazil and Paraguay runs through the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul and historically there has always been trade in goods, people and cultures between that state and Paraguay. It is is Mato Grosso do Sul where one is likely to find a dish called Sopa Paraguaia, and it's anything but a soup. It's a savory dish made from corn meal, similar in many ways to cornbread, or even polenta. In the case of this dish, however, the name comes not from the fact that the dish is a "fake" soup but from the fact that the recipe has Paraguayan roots and is a common dish even today on the Paraguayan side of the border.

I'm not sure why the name for this substantial dish is sopa, whether in Paraguay or Brazil. The English word soup (and the Portuguese word sopa) both come from the Low Latin word suppa which means "bread soaked in broth." Perhaps in Paraguay, they preferred their bread to be corn bread and their soup to be more bread and less broth. Who can be sure? Certainly not Flavors of Brazil. But soup or not, the dish is delicious and satisfying. The next post on this blog will contain a recipe for this intriguing "fake" soup.

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