The Middle-East Meat Run

Mumbaikars can’t get enough of the Vada Pav; Seoulites love their Tteokbokki; and needless to say, Singaporeans will eat anything! But what makes a great takeaway for Arabs?

Shawarma in Cairo
Shawarma in Cairo

Shawarma is an Arabic type of meal, where meat is placed on a vertical spit and may be grilled for as long as 24hrs. Shavings are cut for serving, and the remainder is kept heated on the rotating spit. Once the shawarma is made, it might be dipped in the fat dripping from the skewer and then briefly seared against the flame. Although it can be served in shavings on a plate, shawarma usually refers to a sandwich or wrap made with the meat, and, if ordered in a sit-down restaurant, is usually eaten with tabbouleh or salad. Shawarma is a similar concept to the famous Turkish doner kebab that is very prevalent around Istanbul, especially in Istiklal Avenue and Taksim Square. However, I do not know where the concept originated.

One of my favourite shawarma places in Abu Dhabi!
One of my favourite shawarma places in Abu Dhabi!


What does a takeaway meal mean for Arabs? Well, there are some very popular fast food chains in the Middle-East, such Shawarma Time in Abu Dhabi, and this is where generations of Arabs will often come for a snack either during or after the working week. It is wrapped in pita bread or in Armenian lavash flatbread together with vegetables and dressing. It is intended to be eaten on the move, much like a burger or hot dog from western culture.

Upmarket restaurants also serve gourmet shawarma

I have noticed that even high-end restaurants and hotels serve up delectable shawarma. I am sure the meats used here are much better than what you can get in fast food joints, as mentioned above, and while specialty restaurants might offer two or more meat selections, some establishments have just one skewer. I found that lamb and chicken were the most popular choices, especially in the fast food outlets.

Fast food eateries can be busy in Arabic countries
Fast food eateries can be busy in Arabic countries
Shawarma: Dinner is served!
Shawarma: Dinner is served!

Yet even in more traditional areas of the Middle-East, like at Souq Waqif in Doha, chicken is still by far and away the meat of choice for most shawarma connoisseurs. In Saudi Arabia, goat meat is as common as that of beef and lamb. Less common alternatives include fish and sausage. Some shawarma stores use hot dog buns or baguettes, but most have pita and lavash. In India, chicken and mutton are more common, and a roti is unsurprisingly also used as a wrap.



7 thoughts on “The Middle-East Meat Run

        1. Oh dear, I didn’t know that, but I guess it’s inevitable in some establishments where hygiene isn’t strong. When you eat kokorec (these are sheep intestines, I think) in Istanbul you have to be careful, as there are lots of hygiene problems with preparing that food too. 😦

          Liked by 1 person

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