James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

An Oasis for Seafood‑Lovers in Meaty Paraguay

An Oasis for Seafood‑Lovers in Meaty Paraguay

Fish in Paraguay

The Gran Chaco is an unforgiving place. Twice the size of California, it is South America’s second-largest forest: a dusty and arid landscape stretching from northern Argentina to southern Bolivia. Temperatures routinely hover around a toasty 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

The Paraguayan Chaco, one-third of the forest, is nestled between these two larger South American neighbors. The Paraguayan Chaco is 60 percent of Paraguay’s total land mass, yet only 2 percent of the nation’s population lives in the region, cut off from the rest of the country by the Río Paraguayo.

Nonetheless, entry to this remote landscape is shockingly easy; a zippy 20-minute drive on Ruta Tres from downtown Asunción takes you to the river’s bridge crossing. If you’re looking for a place to fill up the tank before plunging into the desolate Chaco, don’t miss the best budget fish platter you’ve ever had in a landlocked country—and maybe anywhere.

Hidden just off the last possible side street before the Chaco, Shopping del Pescado is a scenic patio with a beautiful view of the Río Paraguayo. For what it may lack in variety—diners choose between the milanesa de pescado (breaded), the grille de pescado (grilled), and the sopa de pescado (soup)—the no-frills Shopping del Pescado compensates with freshness. As you eat, Paraguayan fishermen nearby effortlessly reel in the local surubí and dorado fish destined for the kitchen.

The best time to go to Shopping del Pescado is during the packed Sunday mid-morning almuerzo. An equidistant stop between the Chaco and the capital, Asunción, the brunch hour at Shopping del Pescado is a great social melting pot. Campesinos in their Sunday best arrive from distant Chaco landholdings to dine alongside the Asunceno élite who’ve come from uptown McMansions. Here, Paraguayos from all classes cool off with a refreshing cold beer and take a break from the steakhouse-dominated culinary scene.

Paraguay’s distance from the ocean may scream out to fish lovers: stay away. The large Japanese immigrant population has done what it can with a number of popular sushi restaurants, but seafood options remain limited. Paraguay, like its neighbors Argentina and Brazil, is an intensely carnivorous experience. In my two years in Paraguay, I have found that absence does makes the heart grow fonder. Shopping del Pescado delivers, and then some.

Shopping del Pescado
Mariano Roque Alonso
Paraguay

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