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The Secrets of Shawarma

If you like juicy, tender, well-seasoned meat you are in for a real treat, because whether you are looking for a tasty lunch, a delicious dinner or a late night snack, you can’t go wrong with a shawarma.

While there are many different styles of this popular dish, from the Greek gyros to the Turkish döner kebab and the Armenian tarna, none can compare with the classic Lebanese wraps. Here we will take a closer look at this world famous food; what is shawarma, where it came from and why it has become so popular.

what is shawarma

CC image courtesy of Basher Tome on flickr

Today you can find shawarma just about everywhere, from Lebanon and England to Egypt and Australia, with every culture boasting their own style and flavour.

What is Shawarma?

Shawarma is made from marinated meat that has been slow roasted on a vertical spit for many hours – the meat can be anything from lamb, beef or chicken to goat, turkey or a combination of any of these. Once cooked, the meat is carved off in thin, wide strips and stuffed inside a flatbread along with a variety of vegetables, such as lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, onion, pickles and parsley. Condiments can range from garlic yoghurt to hummus to chilli and pickled mango sauce, and while the type of bread used will vary depending upon where you are, pita, lavash and taboon are most popular.

best shawarma in sydney

CC image courtesy of Karan Jain on flickr

An ancient observation

Most will agree that the secret to shawarma’s taste lies in the way the meat is cooked and much credit must go to the chefs of the Ottoman Empire (1299 – 1923) who were among the first to see the benefit of roasting meat vertically. They noticed that horizontal roasting robbed the meat of all of its delicious fat as it simply dripped into the fire; worse still, as it did so it caused the flames to rise, scorching the outside of the meat as a result. Vertical roasting means that the meat is bathed in its own fat as it cooks, making it soft, tender and delicious, and keeping the flames under control allows the meat to be roasted nice and slowly, cooking it to perfection.

Born in Bursa

While the Ottomans certainly got the ball rolling with their vertical roasting system, it seems that the shawarma we all know and love today didn’t come into being until the late 1800’s thanks to a man by the name of Iskender Efendi. It is believed that Efendi made the first shawarma around 1870 in the Turkish city of Bursa, a creation he called the kebab. Kebabs quickly became popular throughout Turkey and before long this delicious dish had spread to cultural cuisines across the Middle East, the Mediterranean and beyond, adapting and evolving as it went.

shawarma delivery inner west

CC image courtesy of warden.warden on flickr

The expat effect

Prior to World War 2 the many versions of shawarma were for the most part a well-kept secret, unknown to the Western world; however, this would soon change. Following the war, many Turkish people relocated to countries all over the world, with a particularly large group moving to Germany; the impact on the local cuisine was profound to say the least. By the early 1970’s Germans had fallen head over heels for the Turkish shawarma, with thousands of kebab shops opening all over the country. This explosion of kebab love would play a vital role in spreading shawarma throughout the Western world.

What is the difference between shawarma and gyros?

You may be thinking that shawarma sounds awfully similar to its Greek counterpart, gyros. If you are you are not wrong. Both both contain slivers of meat wrapped up in pita bread alongside fresh veggies. Traditionally, the meats are cooked in much the same way: vertically, and both have a reputation for being classic street food, revered within their respective cultures for ages. So, what sets shawarma apart?

The answer lies in the garnish. Shawarma is all about the delicious sauces that accompany the meat – typically garlic yoghurt or tahini and hommus – and the secret ingredient: pickles. Pickled vegetables are what take shawarma to a whole new plane: pickled cucumbers, turnips, and even carrots or mangoes are common. Take your pick, they’re all delicious.

what is shawarma

How do you make Shawarma?

Shawarma can be made quite easily at home with a number of ingredient combinations.

Firstly, select your meat of choice. Prepare it the way you like: we suggest marinating thinly sliced beef, chicken or lamb overnight to ensure maximum flavour (shawarma spices include cumin, all spice, sweet paprika, oregano, cinnamon, cardamom and pepper). Then, cook your meat in a frying pan along with the marinate until juices have evaporated and the meat is cooked.

Place your meat fillets on warm, lightly toasted Lebanese flatbread, top with lettuce, tomato, pickles, pickled turnips and red onion. Drizzle generously with sauce. Our condiment of choice is a delicious garlic yoghurt sauce, however, tahini is also is great choice.

Wrap up tightly and serve.

Today you can find shawarma just about everywhere, from Lebanon and England to Egypt and Australia, with every culture boasting their own style and flavour. If you’d like to try the most delicious of them all, drop by Manoosh or order from us online, because nothing can compare to our freshly-made shawarma wraps.

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