This is the humble shawarma. The anytime snack, the always meal and the forever delicacy. Costs very little, it’s easy to make and is virtually everywhere. The favourite ‘between meals’ food, or even a meal in itself, the shawarma has been a winning Middle Eastern food for many decades.
There are several varieties of this available, the most common being the “Indian” version, made by Indians (read Malayalees, from Kerala state) and the ‘Bangali’ version, prepared by those from Bangladeshi’s.
But the best, and the most authentic, is the Turkish shawarma and the on prepared by Syrians, Lebanese and Jordanians.
But there’s a catch. Shawarma lovers can only indulge in the evening because these joints only start operating late in the afternoon and are ready to serve a couple of hours later.
As times change, however, it’s now available in the day at some places, giving the ‘anytime snack’ its true meaning!
A meat preparation, where lamb, chicken, turkey, beef, veal, or mixed meats are placed on a spit and grilled for a long time, the shawarma is the cheapest and best food I have seen or eaten in the last decade and a half in Bahrain.
Shavings are cut off a block of meat for serving, and the rest of the block of meat is kept heated on the rotating spit. Although it can be served in shavings on a plate (generally with accompaniments), shawarma also refers to a sandwich or wrap made with shawarma meat. It is usually eaten with tabbouleh, fattoush, taboon bread, tomato, and cucumber. Toppings include tahini, hummus, pickled turnips and amba.
It is made by alternately stacking strips of fat and pieces of seasoned meat (beef, lamb or marinated chicken) on a stick. An onion, a tomato, or a halved lemon is sometimes placed at the top of the stack for more flavoring. The meat is roasted slowly on all sides as the spit rotates in front of, or over, a flame for hours. Traditionally, a wood fire was used; but now, a gas flame is common. While specialty restaurants might offer two or more meat selections, some establishments have just one skewer.
While cooking, the meat is shaved off the stack with a large knife, an electric knife or a small circular saw, dropping to a circular tray below to be retrieved.
For me, personally, I recently had a shawarma after nearly three years, having come down with a bout of stomach infection the last time I had it. Though it was never conclusively proved the shawarma did it, I nevertheless gave it a go-by. I have taken the chance again, and so far, all is well!