The featured entree for Thursday lunches in the Embassy cafeteria is a “lomito arabe,” or a shawarma. Before moving to Paraguay, I had never heard of either.
Shawarma is similar to the Turkish döner kebab, Greek Gyros, Armenia tarns, with slices of meat wrapped in pita bread. There are a suprising number of Lebanese restaurants in Asunción, each featuring their own take on the shawarma.
Shawarma is a Middle Eastern meat dish made with either lamb, chicken, turkey, beef, veal or a combination of those meats. Alternate strips of fat and pieces of seasoned meat are layered on a vertical rotisserie skewer. An onion, a tomato, or a halved lemon is sometimes placed at the top of the stack for additional flavoring. The meat is roasted slowly on all sides as the spit rotates in front of, or over, a flame for as long as a day.
The meat is shaved off the stack with a large knife, dropping to a circular tray below while the remainder of the block of meat is kept heated on the rotating spit. Although it can be served in shavings on a plate, shawarma also refers to a sandwich or wrap made with shawarma meat.
Shawarma is a fast food, made up into a sandwich wrap with pita bread together with vegetables and dressing. A variety of vegetables can traditionally be found inside the shawarma including cucumber, onion, tomato, lettuce, eggplant, parsley, pickled turnips, pickles, and cabbage. French fries often accompany the shawarma and occasionally thick cut fries are wrapped inside the pita to help soak up the sauce and juices, keeping them inside the wrap.
There are two kinds of shawarma served on Thursdays in the cafeteria at the Embassy – beef and chicken. They are prepared with veggies (usually peppers and onions, sometimes tomatoes), cabbage and garlic mayonnaise. Once the shawarma is made, it is dipped in the fat dripping from the skewer and then briefly seared, sealing it closed.
The cafeteria serves French fries with its shawarma. Thursday lunches are usually pretty good!