(شاورما or שווארמה), also spelled Chawarma
, or Shaorma
) is a Middle Eastern Arabic
usually composed of shaved lamb
, or a mixture of meats. Shawarma is a popular dish and fast-food staple across the Middle East, it has also become popular world-wide. Shawarma is known as guss
; it is similar to the gyros
. Gyro, however, are typically made of pork meat, or less commonly chicken, although beef or lamb is usually used outside Greece and Cyprus.
The classic shawarma combination is pita bread
, tomato & cucumber, and of course the shawarma. The additional toppings include tahini
, and amba
The name shawarma
) comes from the Turkish
(tʃevir'me), meaning turning
, and has its origins in Anatolia
. It is quite similar to döner kebab
(for which it is another name - turning roast
), though differing from it in the type of meat and spices
used. The composition of the salad can be quite different as well.
Shawarma is made by placing strips of meat or marinated chicken on a spit. Animal fat and an onion or tomato are placed at the top of the stack to provide flavoring. The meat is then roasted slowly on all sides as the spit rotates in front of or over a flame for a period of several hours (see rotisserie
). Traditionally a wood fire was used but for modern times, a gas flame is more common. While many specialty restaurants might offer two or more meat selections, some establishments have just one skewer.
Different sorts of meat can be used for the shawarma; the principle is that the meat will be placed on a spit, and can be grilled even for the whole day. Chunks of meat fat make sure that the meat stays fat and juicy.
After 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. Shawarma is most commonly eaten as a fast food, made up into a sandwich with pita bread or rolled up in lafa (a sweet, fluffy flatbread) together with vegetables and a dressing. Vegetables commonly found in shawarma include cucumber, onion, tomato, lettuce, parsley, pickled turnips, pickled gherkins, cabbage, and in some countries, such as Jordan or the United Arab Emirates, french fries.
Common dressings include tahini (or tahina), Amba sauce (pickled mango with Chilbeh) and hummus, flavored with vinegar and spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Chicken shawarma is often served with garlic mayonnaise, pomegranate concentrate, skhug (a hot chili sauce), or any combination of the three. Once the sandwich is made, it might be dipped in the fat dripping from the skewer and then briefly seared against the flame. In Syria, Israel, and Lebanon, chicken shawarma sandwiches are generally toasted after being made up, whereas those made of lamb or beef are immediately eaten.
Beef can be used for shawarma instead of lamb, and turkey is also occasionally used instead of chicken. In Saudi Arabia, goat is equally as common as beef or lamb and is often the preferred primary meat for purists. In Israel, a turkey/lamb fat mixture is the primary flavor, although chicken is also available. Less common alternatives include fish and sausage. Some shawarma stores use hot dog buns or baguettes, but most have pita and lafa. Shawarma is often served with a plate of french fries or home fries. Sometimes, beef shawarma—despite its name—contains some lamb in addition to the beef, to ensure juiciness.
Shawarma is eaten either as a dish by itself, with grilled bread, or fresh pita bread, or with other Middle Eastern foods like Tabouli, Hummus, and Fattoush.
Around the world
While shawarma originated in Turkey
under the name döner kebab
means "one that turns," versus çevirme
, which means "turning"), it has become a ubiquitous form of fast food in many Arab
countries, particularly the United Arab Emirates
, and Lebanon
which have a deep-rooted tradition of preparing the dish. Here is a rundown of the areas and modes of preparation of shawarma in other places around the world:
- : In Argentina, shawarma is beginning to grow in popularity, introduced by the sizeable Lebanese, Syrian, and Armenian immigrant populations which brought the food to the country with them. It is consumed mainly in Buenos Aires,Córdoba and Villa Gesell.
- : In Australia there are large Greek, Armenian and Arab migrant populations who have introduced shawarma. Most commonly however it is known simply as a kebab, or more fully, a Döner kebab or, where Greek immigrants have settled, as a souvlaki, or less commonly, gyros/yiros. It has been enthusiastically embraced by Australians as a popular take-out dish with stands existing wherever people enjoy food and many only opening later in the evening especially in late night entertainment areas. It is almost a tradition to enjoy one on the way home after a big night, usually after alcohol consumption. On average, shawarma costs AUD$7.00 upwards and is usually sold wrapped in a large pita bread and comes with any, or all, of the following; beef, chicken or lamb as the meat options, salad consisting of lettuce, tomato and onion, cheese and egg as optional extras. Sauces usually include "garlic sauce" (Tzatziki), chilli sauce, hummus, tomato, and barbecue. Sometimes it is toasted after being wrapped in the pita bread.
- : In Belgium, which has a relatively high Turkish immigrant population in its major urban centers, shawarma is widely available at restaurants. A very large, filling shawarma is available for around 5 euro. It is often made with a combination of lamb and beef and placed in a freshly-baked pita, garnished with salad and a choice of a zesty white garlic sauce or a spicy red sauce, or both.
- : In Brazil, mainly in São Paulo, shawarma is a very popular street food, served with bread and a cup of artificial juice. There it is called Churrasquinho Grego (Little Greek Barbecue) or much less frequently Churrasco Turco (Turkish Barbecue) and costs around R$ 1,00 (US$ 0.50). It is not associated in any way with the kebab/gyro appearance in fashion districts.
- : In Bulgaria, shawarma has become a goulash-like dish, called cavarma (кавърма) or jahnia (яхния).
- : In Canada's capital city Ottawa, there is a large Middle Eastern population and shawarma has become very popular,as well in Toronto, Canada's largest and most multi-cultural city. Restaurants can be found very commonly throughout these cities. The local version consists of a generous portion of shaved beef and/or chicken and vegetables wrapped in pita with garlic or sesame sauce. Garlic potatoes or rice are typical side dishes, but it is most common for shawarma to be served wrapped alone fast-food style. Most interestingly, it is present even within the suburbs, close to small plazas.
- In some regions of Canada, the term "shawarma" is interchangeable with donairs. In the Montreal region, "shawarma" specifically refers to the beef variety of this dish, while the chicken version is known as "Shish taouk". See Donair in Canada
- : In the numerous Middle Eastern restaurants in Barranquilla, shawarma is a favorite of guests when choosing a light meal, since other main courses have heartier portions.
- : Shawarma was first introduced to Denmark in 1980 by Turkish migrant workers, and has since become a staple. The local shawarma is served with julienned salad, (onion, tomatoes, cucumber), sour cream dressing and chilli oil in either a pita bread, rolled in a flat bread (dürüm) or served on pizza.
- : In France, shawarma (or chawarma) is served in Arab and Israeli restaurants. The same item can be bought from ubiquitous fast food vendors under the name sandwich grec, sandwich Turc, or kebab. Although the name may imply a Greek origin, the sandwich is not a Greek gyros. As a fast food item, it is frequently served with french fries (in the sandwich, not on the side) and garnished with a yogurt sauce (sauce blanche) and/or harissa, or a number of other sauces. Doner kebab or sandwich kebab is also ubiquitous at Algerian (or North African) and Turkish owned fast food places. The specifically Algerian and Tunisian touch is the optional harissa.
- : in Georgia, shawarma, known as shaurma has become a very popular street food.
- : In Ecuador, shawarma are a popular snack or light meal with vendors found all over the main metropolitan areas. They were introduced by the Middle Eastern immigrant population.
- : In Germany, shawarma is vastly surpassed in popularity by döner kebab. Döner stands are very common in all major cities and even many smaller towns all over Germany. Shawarma, on the other hand, is quite rarely found; usually it is offered by small restaurants run by Lebanese immigrants. In Germany, shawarma is often based on chunks of chicken or turkey meat marinated in a spicy yoghurt sauce; ironically, this is much closer to the original Turkish döner kebab than the "German döner" which contains much minced meat and is seasoned but not marinated. Cinnamon and coriander are often used to season shawarma marinade, whereas it is hardly ever used to season döner meat.
- : Shawarma found its way to India via the large number of non-resident Indians who live and work in Persian Gulf countries. Sometimes Paratha, an Indian flatbread originating in northern India but now eaten everywhere, is used instead of pita.
- : In Israel, shawarma (Hebrew: שווארמה) is a very popular street food and is offered in meat restaurants. It was introduced to the Jewish population by Arab residents as well as Jews who immigrated from Arab countries. Often the rotating skewer is placed at the front of the fast-food stand, exposed to the street, so that patrons can view the preparation process. Shawarma is served in a pita or a lafa and is usually eaten with salad, hummus or french fries. In Jerusalem, the lafa is called 'esh tanur'. One of the condiments in demand is Amba.
- : In Puebla, shawarma was introduced by the numerous Middle-Eastern immigrants, mostly from Lebanon, but also Turkey and Iraq, in the early 1920s. Since then, it has become a traditional dish of the city, locally known as taco árabe, "Arabian taco", sold in taquerías orientales, "[Middle-]Eastern taco stands". Nonetheless, it is now usually made with pork and served either in pitas –locally called pan árabe, "Arabian bread"–, leavened bread –locally called torta árabe, "Arabian baguette", also called cemita–, or simply in flour tortillas. It is usually accompanied tahini and labneh –locally called jocoque– even though the skhug (or kharif) has been replaced with a thick chipotle-garlic sauce. In other parts of the country, most notably in Mexico City, the dish has adapted to the Mexican cuisine by replacing the pita with corn tortillas, in what is now called a taco al pastor, "Shepherd taco". Unlike a taco árabe, the taco al pastor is served with pineapple, cilantro, chopped onions and green or red salsa, and marinated with annatto sauce. Regardless of local adaptations, authentic middle eastern shawarma is available in the many middle eastern restaurants and kosher taquerias that cater to the large Mexican Lebanese and Mexican Sephardim communities.
- : In the Netherlands, shawarma (shoarma) is a popular meal, especially after a night out. Here it is served as pork, chicken, beef or lamb combined with salad and garlic sauce. It is usually served with French Fries (patat) and can be bought from many places, including the local snackbars. It is generally served with pitã bread, which is cut open and the meat is placed inside. This is called Broodje Shoarma (small bread with shoarma) although can be served in larger portions without bread.
- : In Pakistan, Shawarma has been available as a road-side snack for many years, due to it being brought back by non-resident Pakistanis who worked in the Gulf states. However it acquired cult status in Karachi in the late '90s following the opening of the restaurant known as Damascus Restaurant. It became closely associated with the sheesha fad which was taking place at the same time.
- : Shawarma is known in Paraguay as a popular fast-food, there are more than two chains fast-food restautards that sells them as the main product with other typical middle-east food.
- : In the Philippines, shawarma is a popular food found at both street side and indoor shopping mall stalls, mostly in Metro Manila and other major cities, such as Cebu City. Shawarma is often cooked using beef in a large pita bread, and served with vegetables such as onion and tomatoes. The shawarma sandwich can usually be topped with locally made cheddar cheese for a few Philippine pesos.
- : In Romania, shawarma (şaorma) is hugely popular, with venues being renowned throughout a city. Shawarma is usually cooked using beef or chicken (some restaurants also serve lamb shawarma, but this is rather uncommon) in a large lipie (lebanese bread) or, possibly, pita bread. It also commonly contains french fries, pickles, fried or fresh onion, tomatoes, cabbage and sometimes gherkins. The most common dressings are a combination of spicy garlic sauces, spicy red sauces (containing hot peppers, tomatoes and aromatic herbs), mayo and ketchup (or, possibly, other sweet red sauces containing tomatoes and/or vinegar and sugar). Prices vary around 9 RON (just over USD$3 in 2007). Traditionally, the shawarma shops also sell Döner Kebabs, falafels, lemonade, ayran and kefir.
- : In Western Russia, shawarma (шаурма,шавурма or шаверма) has become a popular street food in large cities. In Moscow this food is called "shaurma", while in St. Petersburg they are "shaverma", despite being the exact same item. It is generally eaten with a variety of julienned vegetables, tomato sauce, and garlic sauce that is wrapped in lavash. Russian-style shawarma is similar to döner kebab made of beef, pork or chicken.
- : In South Africa, shawarma is extremely popular and widespread since there is a large Muslim population and hence a demand for halal food. The Anat and Mivami chains of shawarma restaurants are found all over the region. Here shawarma is made with beef, chicken, turkey, or often a combination in a soft pita. Most shawarmas come standard with hummus, tahina sauce, tzatziki (garlic sauce), chili flavoring, choice of vegetables, etc. Barbecue and other sauces may be added to taste as well. Most shawarma shops augment their menus with falafel and burgers.
- : In Senegal, shawarma is a common fast food for the predominantly Muslim populace. It is usually made with some sort of meat with spices, onions and herbs to taste. It is considered as typical first date food among Senegalese youth.
- : In Suriname, shoarma is widespread. A local fast food chain called 'wolly's' has a signature dish called 'patat shoarma' which consists out of french fries, shoarma chicken covered with Indonesian peanut sauce, ketchup and garlic sauce. It is cheap fast food and accessible to most people. There are also some more exclusive restaurants with more traditional recipes, but they are not as popular as the beforementioned one.
- : In Switzerland, similar to Germany, shawarma is surpassed in popularity by döner kebab. Döner stands are very common around areas with large Turkish immigrant populations in most major cities, such as Basel and Zurich.
- : In Spain, like in other parts of the Western world, shawarma is a fast food offering that is particularly popular with lunchtime and late-night crowds. Although more famous for tapas bars that offer free snacks with each drink, Granada, with its large student population and Islamic/Arabic heritage, is also a shawarma hotspot. Calle Elvira, which contains numerous bars and clubs that cater to locals and foreigners alike, also houses establishments serving shawarma and kebabs.
- : In Taiwan, shawarma (Mandarin Chinese: 沙威馬 shāwēimǎ) is usually made from chicken and is served on a leavened, white flour bun with julienned cabbage, a slice of tomato, sliced onions, ketchup, and mayonnaise. It is often sold in night markets in Taiwan.
- : In Tunisia, shawarma is a very popular imported dish. There are three different names: "Turkish", "Lebanese", and "Syrian". The only difference is in the spices and techniques used, which are jealously held secret by every chef. The meat (chicken, lamb, turkey or beef) is served inside the typical Tunisian bread (called "tabuna") or inside the more middle-eastern pita-like bread, together with a wide variety of flavors and some vegetables: garlic sauce, chick-pea sauce, local meshuya (a salad made out of grilled capsicum, tomatoes and garlic), cheese, tomatoes, onions, lettuce and fried chips. Every customer will choose his own flavors when ordering his shawarma.
- : In the United Arab Emirates, shawarma is the most extremely popular food. It is also considered the national dish. It is found in street vendors or restaurants especially in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
- : In the United Kingdom, shawarma consists of slices of skewered meat which are served in a pita with salad, pickles and tahina. The original shawarma take-aways first appeared in Piccadilly Circus in the early 70's, catering mainly to tourists and Arab expatriates, but quickly spread to other parts of the U.K.
- : Shawarma is usually found in regions and localities that host a concentration of Arab or Jewish population, such as Detroit, Chicago, and New York City. An almost direct result of the conflict in the Middle East, shawarma is also popular among American soldiers when returning home.
- West Africa: Introduced by Middle Eastern migrants, shawarma (spelled chawarma in Francophone countries) is a popular street food. In Nigeria, shawarma is usually served in Lebanese restaurants, and they are a popular delicacy among Arabs, Nigerians and Indians.
- In a segment on the Middle East conflict, The Daily Show host Jon Stewart made a reference to shawarma, at which point the audience broke out in spontaneous applause. This caused Stewart to ask, somewhat quizzically, "Are you applauding shawarma?"
- In the American Dad! episode, "Stan of Arabia", there is an establishment in the UAE named Shawarma King, a likely parody of Burger King. There is, in fact, a restaurant called "Shawarma King in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The Eaton Centre food court in Toronto is also home to a Shawarma King takeout. There is another Shawarma King establishment in the metro Boston area. And there are two located in Ottawa, Ontario. Kalamazoo, MI is home to a chain called Shawarma King, consisting of sit down restaurants and a buffet.
- The Rock Hyrax has been jokingly referred to as a "Shawarma Bear." This references its size and shape, which resemble shawarma.
- The Exile, a very irreverent Moscow-based newspaper, often refers to "Shaurma Shuttles"; these vehicles are souped-up Ladas often driven by the children of wealthy immigrants from Georgia and Armenia. They are equivalent to Rice Rockets in the sense that according to public perception a substantial sub-population of immigrants prefers the type to more native vehicles.
- The Romanian rap/happy hop crew Plus 2 made a song in 2005 with the title "Kebab-ul şi Shaorma" ("The Kebab and the Shawarma" in English) which satirized the Romanian people's post-communist fascination with these middle-eastern foods blaming them for an increase in obesity among the population.
- In an episode of The Nanny set in the fictional country Koorestan, Fran Drescher's character tells the sultan that the "Golden Arches" downtown would "make a mint selling that McShawarma back in the States."
Notes and references