The Chronicles of Shawarma: Book III

2008.Dec.26 Friday · 6 comments

in Restaurants

“He had eaten his share of the dinner, but he hadn’t really enjoyed it because he was thinking all the time about Turkish Delight – and there’s nothing that spoils the taste of good ordinary food half so much as the memory of bad magic food.”

– C.S. Lewis, author, from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

Buenos Aires – My first thought is, I never want to look at a shawarma again. I’ve had my fill, enough. But, I know it’s just a matter of time, I do love the things, it was just a little overwhelming to hit nine different spots in the course of just a couple of weeks. In reality, only two of these three count… as you’ll see.

Oasis - shawarma
My friend Barbara picked up a flyer for a spot in Centro – at Montevideo 559, called Oasis: La Cocina de Amira. I popped by one day only to find that they only serve shawarma from noon to four, on weekdays. So, a few days later I headed back over. I really wanted to like this one – the place is cute, Amira herself came out to chat with me a bit – food, politics, etc. – her son, who carves the shawarma standing out on the sidewalk under an awning, is a cutie… but, I didn’t. It wasn’t awful or anything, it just wasn’t that interesting – bland, unseasoned, and a bit on the gristly side, plus fairly skimpy on the bits of salad and sauce to accompany it, the pita bread was a bit on the stale side. Likewise their hummus was devoid of seasoning. They do, however, make a mean café árabe

[Note: Going to have to edit this one – I stopped back in one day when passing by and I noticed that there were people lined up for the shawarma – it could have just been that it’s the only place in this part of town, but, you never know. And it looked, somehow, different. And it was. Fresh pita, absolutely delicious, well seasoned meat, and, they now offer a fresh green chili sauce to spice it up for those who want it hot. I’ve been back several times since and it has continued to be really, really good, and they still make a mean café árabe! Likewise the hummus, which I tried again, though a little light on the garlic/cumin end of things, is now perked up with plenty of lemon, hot paprika and good olive oil. Amira is still there, but has new people working with her in the kitchen and out front.]

Medio Oriente - shawarma
Okay, remember back in “Book I” of this chronicle when I said, “I’m slightly skeptical, only because the owner of the shop spent so much time assuring me that he has the best shawarma, that no one else in town remotely compares, and I shouldn’t try one anywhere else – and then admitting he’s never tried anyone else’s in town,” in reference to the small shop at Cabrera and Malabia, called Medio Oriente. Mea culpa. He doesn’t really need to go try anyone else’s. They may have the best shawarma I’ve ever had in my life. Juicy meat, well seasoned, the fresh baked pita bread (they set up a whole production line on Fridays and Saturdays just for shawarma, and people are lined up out onto the sidewalk waiting), slathered with tahini and then another slather of tangy sumac paste, topped with plenty of tomatoes and lettuce, and a spiced onion salad… need I go on? I even ran into the guys from California Burrito Co. who were there for their “every Saturday fix” – you’d think after all the burritos they must eat during the week that a shawarma would have limited appeal, but hey, guys, good as you’re burritos are, if they were as good as these shawarma, you’d have to license out your concept!

Burmana - shawarma
This one doesn’t really count, because it’s not a takeout, quick snack shawarma. It just happened that I met up with my friend Mickey in San Telmo and we decided to go to Burmana, at Balcarce 668. My mind was still focused on shawarma, so I ordered a platter – at 33 pesos – just to see what you get. Way more food than I could eat, to start with – it was a meal for two – the meat, however, way over-salted, though other than that, nice and juicy and with other good seasonings, plenty of tomato, onion, and lettuce, and, interestingly, sandwiched between two rounds of lavash bread rather than pita. The setting is nice, they have a rockingly good hummus platter that we split first, with plenty of fresh pita bread. But hey, it’s just not the same as a wrapped up shawarma to go….

[Note: this place now has a take-out window that’s opened during nice weather, just for shawarma, so have to stop back and see how they fare with that….]


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Ken Sternberg December 29, 2008 at 02:53

Dan, I am wild about shawarma. Is it possible to make anything approaching reasonable quality in a home kitchen? I don’t have one of those vertical slow-roast turning gizmos, but I’d love to try making some.

dan December 29, 2008 at 08:06

Honestly I’ve never tried making any, but it seems like you could. After all, these days, most of those vertical roasters are electric rather than some sort of flame anyway. I did a quick online search for “shawarma recipe” and there are plenty that pop up, though I wouldn’t begin to know which to recommend. It looks like, to me, that common factors are very thin sliced meat (beef, lamb, or chicken), and several hour to overnight marinating in a mix of either yogurt or olive oil and spices – the mix of those varies wildly from recipe to recipe that I saw. The most common cooking technique mentioned was spreading the pieces in a single layer in a pan under the broiler (or using a grill if you have one). I can’t see why it wouldn’t make a passable imitation if you get a good marinade going and do that. I have made fresh pita bread before, and defer to this recipe.

Marc December 29, 2008 at 11:47

Although I have yet to try sliced meat, I have used Alton Brown’s gyro meat recipe quite a few times–either cooked in an oven(what the recipe calls for) or with a vertical rotisserie. Very tasty.

recipe here

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