“A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive and honey.”
– Deuteronomy 8:8
Buenos Aires – Notice, no mention of shawarma. I’m pretty certain it doesn’t come up in either the old or new testament, nor in the koran. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty certain. Still, it was off to the Holy Land, or, as it’s called here, Tierra Santa – an amusement park… or maybe not amusement, but “theme park”. I’ll get into the park itself in another post, because it’s deserving of at least a modicum of attention, derision, or simply annotation – but despite the fact that it was on my list of things to get around to doing, my principle reason for going was that I’m still on the hunt for shawarma. Someone had mentioned to me that there was a place in Tierra Santa that offered up a very good version of the sandwich, and, hey, why not accomplish two things at once? Now, the place they recommended, the Baghdad Cafe, doesn’t exist, and as best anyone in the park knew, never has existed (and, in fact, the only reference to it I can find is a posting on the Argentina’s Travel Guide blog – however, with a half dozen restaurants in the park, it turns out that three of them offer up shawarma. Hey, I’m a pro, I can handle three… I may not have eaten again for the rest of the day, but I managed.
So, amidst the various activities of the park… again, in another post… I plopped myself down first at the Arca de Noe Armenian restaurant. Here, for 14 pesos – hey, this is theme park food after all, so figure on nearly double the price of places outside of its wailing wall, I dug into half a pita bread, loosely packed with reasonably good, tender bits of beef, packed with a fair amount of a yogurt and mint cucumber salad and a bit of lettuce. A little skimpy, mildly seasoned, but it was… okay. With a 6 peso bottle 375ml bottle of water, a round 20 pesos plus tip (we won’t touch on the park entrance fee of 20 pesos, since, I imagine, most people won’t head to Tierra Santa simply for a shawarma).
And, the award for the skimpiest shawarma around goes to Tiberio Arabian cafe. For the same price as the Noah’s Ark version above, a teeny, flimsy little tortilla comes wrapped around maybe 7-8 pieces of salty, gristly, chewy meat, a few desultory strips of lettuce, and watered down yogurt with a measly couple of shreds of cucumber in it. On the flip side the same 6 pesos bought a 500ml bottle of water… okay, that didn’t make up for it at all, though the extra water was necessary just to wash down what I was able to eat of this poor excuse for… anything.
On the other hand, hand’s down the biggest, juciest shawarma I’ve tried to date (including the ones coming up in the next, and probably last, post on the subject), was to be had for a peso less, 13 pesos, at La Puerta de Damasco – which also gets points for offering a chicken version as well as beef. Well seasoned with lemon and spices, and absolutely delicious, this is also the only place of the trio that carves the meat in front of you – their shawarma station is outside on the patio, with the tables surrounding it. The sandwich is packed with meat, and also a really nice mixed salad of lettuce, tomato, onion, cucumber and carrots, all dressed in an herb yogurt, and an option for hot sauce. They even get points for the carver dipping the pita bread in the dripping fat from the meat and then grilling it on both sides by holding it up against the rotisserie flames. How can you not like that? The same 6 pesos for a 500ml bottle of water, but hey, a peso saved is a peso earned, n’est pas?
So, presuming that you’re not going to Tierra Santa just for the shawarma, where you’d have to figure in the cost of admission, you’re still looking at a bit of a hike to get there (along the Costanera Norte, past the domestic airport and just before the city university), and roughly 75% more in cost than the places I reviewed in “Book I” of this Chronicle.