Why has the world got MacDonalds when it could have shawarma joints?
Get a 'fat lady's leg' of tightly packed, succulent chicken and put it on a vertical rotisserie (you also get beef shawarmas), then slice it off when cooked by the coal or gas grill behind it. For some reason the best of them put a lump of fat and an orange or lemon on top of the whole shebang. Now chop up the sliced, cooked chicken in the hot fat that collects on the tray below the cooking kebab, then scoop it up into an opened out Arabic bread that's been warming at the back of the tray and add some garlic paste, pickle, tahine and a couple of chips. Wrap it up in a twist of clean, thin white paper and present it to the happy purchaser for Dhs 3, which is less than a dollar. It used to be Dhs 2.5 before petrol went up and the dollar got screwed.
The result is the ultimate fast food: piping hot, clean, nutritious, inexpensive and fundamentally delicious, aromatic and savoury, the bite of pickle and the slightly spicy taste of the marinated chicken. The chicken is always just a bit too salty, like a great bar snack. You just want more of the juicy bits to ameliorate the salt, so you just eat more. I've been eating shawarmas for 20 years now and still love them like that love at first bite. Why they haven't taken over the world is a major mystery. If you're in
I once ran a big April 1st editorial piece on shawarmas in the BBC Gulfwide magazine wot I used to edit and produce. It was a great piece of silly fantasy (the piece, not the magazine. The magazine had real people writing for it like John Beasant, Simon Tiptree, Anne Malin and Tuesday Belgravia): but the article was pages of sheer idiocy illustrated with old line drawings of Turkish Beys and photos of bedouin tents in the Jordanian black sands. The idea was that shawarmas were actually animals and were being hunted to extinction. I even had a quote from TE Lawrence that used a lot of colons in it (he was very fond of colons and no, I'm not being rude) for absolute authenticity. The article ended with a fax number for 'Save Our Shawarmas' or SOS. We got faxes of support. I was so happy with myself. But then you'll already have worked out that I am incredibly easily amused.
So where's the best shawarma in the Emirates to be had? My money's on Sharjah's Auberge restaurant, top of Al Arouba, can't miss it - closely followed by Fawar on King Faisal street...
In Saudi Arabia, it's the big shawarma joint by the traffic lights on the main drag down from the airport road in Riyadh which is so busy they cut the meat with circular saws. No kidding. You can sit and have your shawarma and strawberry juice while you wait for the inevitable traffic incident to provide some lunchtime light entertainment...
But my money, for the best shawarma in the Middle East, has to go to the Syrians. The Shawarmas of Halab break all the rules imaginable and are legendary. They'll put just about anything in 'em and they're fantastic!