Paraguayan Street Food the Lomito Arabe
Lomito arabe is a Paraguayan street food wrap made perfectly with grilled tenderloin, fresh vegetables and Mediterranean sauce. Quick recipe that you can make in under 15 minutes.
Living in Paraguay, after roaming the streets of Los Angeles, it was a completely new experience. It was a humbling way of life. Although you couldn’t get the same amenities LA offered, it was quite easy to get adjusted. In some ways, the simple life of Paraguay was better. You were close to your neighbors, had to go out and play, and frequently cooked together. Grilling asado outside, preparing milanesa, growing your own mandioca tree, and hacking it down to eat its roots for a special occasion, was a joy. You may have assumed, this was a life of an adult with a family. This was my experience as a 14 years old teenager.
There was only one thing I truly missed while living in Paraguay: tacos. Specifically, the tacos made in taco trucks. This was before the boom of taco trucks, where now it is basically a high-end restaurant on wheels. It was grimy, probably unsanitary, but nevertheless, it was delicious and affordable.
One day, after playing soccer with my friends, I mentioned, back at home after we would finish playing basketball, we would go to the corner taco truck and get some food. How eating that taco when you were sweaty and tired, you felt one with the taco. How eating on the sidewalk, hands dirty, spreading salsa all over, with the side of pickled carrots and jalapeños was the perfect way to end a good workout.
To my surprise, they told me they had their own traditions of going to get something called, lomito arabe. When they took me to the stand, I was transported to that sidewalk. They had an open grill, tables of condiments and toppings, and friends gathered around enjoying good food and good company. The cut of meat was so tender and juicy. The vegetables were so fresh and vibrant. That sauce - so good and creamy with a hint of heat.
After devouring the lomito arabe, I just had one question. What the heck did I just eat?! I wanted it every day.
Lomo is the most prized portion of the meat in Paraguay, the tenderloin. Arabe is referring to the Arab bread, pita. One could compare it to a shawarma. Obviously, this cut of meat is not special to Paraguay, but its introduction as a casual fast food was in the 1980s.
During the reign of Alfredo Stroessner dictatorship, restaurants downtown were forced to close early. The restaurants found a solution in selling food during afterhours in carts. They served a variety of options from traditional street foods everywhere: hot dogs and hamburgers. Slowly they implemented their choice meat, lomo into their repertoire and made it affordable for the late night guests. Through the word of mouth, they were able to survive and actually thrive off of their late night business.
The origin of a dish is usually hard to track down, but the lomito arabe was created by a man named Hicham Melhem, 1991. Melhem, who was from Syria, came to Paraguay for the opportunity to do business. Eating his native food in public, he noticed many people were intrigued and often asked about the food he was eating. With the inspiration from his Paraguayan wife, he started to add lomo, vegetables, and tahini inspired sauce, into his pancho Arab, Mediterranean flatbread, and thus began the lomito arabe.
As you would eat a shawarma wrap or gyro, like the street tacos I grew up, the lomito arabe must be eaten by hand. The juicy tenderloin with Mediterranean spices and aroma will fill your senses. The fresh tomatoes and lettuce will be fresh and cool. The fried egg oozing its yolk throughout each bite is delightful. The zesty and spicy sauce will be the perfect complement to the entire meal. Enjoy a staple in the street food scene in Paraguay and have a taste of South America like never before.
(With all The Journey posts, which will explain the 5Ws+H and go deeper than just the recipe, I will also create a Leftovers post, as a way to create something fun and tasty with, you guessed it, the leftovers. You can go to that page here: Lomo Bowl)
*I went to culinary school, worked as a chef for 8 years, but never really learned how to cook until I read these four books. If you want to go beyond cooking from just reading a recipe, I go into details in how these four books changed the way I cook: Learning How to Cook
Before you continue, links in this post are Amazon Affiliate links to books I love and still use to this day!
What: Lomito Arabe
Who: Street for all in Paraguay (Other countries also serve this in South America)
Where: Asución, Paraguay
When: Lomo started to be popular in the 1980s and the lomito arabe was introduced in 1991
Why: The dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner forced restaurants to close early which made the restaurant owners bring out carts to serve their patrons at night. This led to lomo being served as a common food for everyone.