Chronicles of Shawarma – Book VI

2010.Dec.02 Thursday · 12 comments

in Popular Posts, Restaurants

“Then she was given dinner with all the nice parts left out and sent to bed for two solid hours. It was a thing that happened to one quite often in those days.”

– from C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew, Book 6, Chronicles of Narnia

It’s been quite some time since my last shawarma update, and I’d not really planned to do another, but then PlanetaJoy published a list of their favorites, three of which I was unfamiliar with (as it turned out, because they’re all brand spanking new). By now, however, I’m wary about their reports – their focus is on quantity and price for most of their food reporting, particularly their quick eats kind of listings – and their bent is very definitely to the local palate. So, none of what I found on these three visits surprised me….

Malakeh - shawarma

Malakeh, Charcas 5002, Palermo – It’s unlikely there’s a more solidly porteño style of shawarma, anywhere. The place, despite various signs asserting itself as a middle eastern restaurant, has a menu that’s about 75% classic, local parrilla. The folks working there don’t appear to be middle eastern in origin, and the majority of customers were having steaks or milanesas with fries – in fact, I think I was the only person in the room having anything off the short middle eastern menu. Instead of a wrap, the shawarma is stuffed into a very commercial, grocery store pita. The meat does not come broiled off of a rotisseries, but appears to be coarsely chopped up gristly steak trimmings that have been sauteed in oil, unseasoned except for salt. Some salsa criolla (tomato, bell pepper and onion in vinegar) is added, a thin white sauce that was likely just watered down yogurt was spooned into it, and the whole thing is served with a side of fries (unless you can talk them into a salad, as I did). The only sauces available are ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, and chimichurri. This one was a major fail.

Hola! Sinior shawarma

Hola! Siniór (their spelling, not mine), Honduras 5328, Palermo. An interesting take on a shawarma stand, basically takeout only, with a few chairs scattered around. It’s pretty much all they sell – a few other middle eastern items available. The staff, again not middle eastern, mostly Paraguayan it seemed, and setup like any hotdog stand here in town. Overall, decent. The meat quality was good – they have a choice of beef, chicken, and… drum roll… pork – which may very well make it the only pork shawarma on the planet given its prohibition in both Muslim and Jewish cultures. Nicely seasoned with salt, paprika and lemon. And like hotdog stands, there’s an array of condiments to be put into your shawarma – from classic tahini and hot sauce (which was no spicier than hot paprika, unfortunately), to ketchup, mayo, pickle relish, bbq sauce, etc., etc. – right down to the usual offering of papitas, the ubiquitous shoestring potatoes that are used as a classic crunchy topping here on hotdogs. People were lined up to get in and buy. And, if I was in the area, I’d go back.

Al Zain shawarma

Al Zain, Arce 488, Las Cañitas. I really wanted to like this one because it was hard as hell to finally get a shawarma. Despite advertising that they’re open seven days a week from noon to 4pm and 7pm to 1am, we first went on a Monday only to find them closed. Actually, they were there, but loading up a van for some sort of catering event, told us they weren’t open Mondays, but come back tomorrow. We did, the following day, only to find the place locked up, and some of the equipment stripped out it, including the wall mounted shawarma rotisseries. I back burnered it for a week or so and then had to be in the area again and thought we’d give it one more shot. This time it was open and the rotisseries restored to the wall, but they were unlit and without meat. We were assured that there would be shawarma in around half an hour (turned out to be 45 minutes as they brought out the raw meat on a skewer and started it broiling, but in the meantime we’d sampled some other things… more in another post). Paper thin pita bread, completely bland (a little salt in the dough, dip it in some juices, I don’t know…), the meat unseasoned, mixed with a little tomato and lettuce and drizzled with what again appeared to be watered down yogurt. No tahini in evidence. A request for hot sauce yielded up a small dish of a vaguely spicy chili puree. Another fail.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

MARCELO January 7, 2011 at 01:22

hola! lei su comentario sobre nuestro shawarma (local malakeh) y en principio me sorprendio que alguien que nos visitara , tuviese un blog sobre “shawarmas”…me parecio interesante. le comento que nuestro pan arabe es fabricado por nosotros, no es de ningun local comercial. la carne es salteada levemente para servirlo bien caliente, pero sale de nuestro aparato de shawarma de 15 kg. solo el dueño del local es irani, el resto de nosotros, los empleados, somos argentinos! IT IS A CRIME? local en argentina, empleados argentinos! ahh! y hemos agregado mas salsas. lo esperamos!
atte.
marcelo (cocinero de malakeh)

dan January 7, 2011 at 09:11

Marcelo,

No se porque era una sorpresa, despues PlanetaJoy aca en BA les recomendó ustedes como uno de sus shawarmas favoritas en la ciudad – supongo que muchos de nosotros se fueron a probar. Que sorpresa para mi cuando visité! No, eso no es un crimen para tener empleados argentinos, pero la shawarma, posiblemente. Si la carne que ustedes utilizan es de una rotiserie tradicional para shawarma, necesitas hablar con su proveedor, porque la calidad era, simplemente, asquerosa – casi todo de ternilla y sin condimento, tambien el pan árabe que estaba soso y rancio – todo incomestible. La falta de condimentos tradicionales tampoco es crimen, pero un decisión inexplicable para un resto que tiene un menú lo que dice es de comida tradicional medio-oriental (aparentamente algo que ustedes realizaron si les agregaron mas salsas ahora). Y mientras no tengo ningún problema con empleados argentinos en un restaurant argentina, ni otro tipo de restaurant, si no saben como es una shawarma (u otro plato) clasico y rico, eso también es un “crimen” contra sus propios paladares y los clientes del resto.

Pero eso es solo mi opinión.

MARCELO January 7, 2011 at 09:36

ok! su ultimo comentario era lo que me faltaba para comprender que ud. es un “DISCRIMINADOR” TOTAL! en el otro comentario del local hola sinior, ud. VUELVE a hacer un comentario sobre la nacionalidad de el personal del lugar, arriesgando que los mismos deben ser de PARAGUAY (?). nosotros y la gran cantidad de clientes que concurren a nuestro local, estamos muy conformes con la calidad de nuestros productos.
la opinion de un DISCRIMINADOR no suma, al contrario : RESTA!
PD: tenga ud. la valentia de dejar este ultimo comentario.

dan January 7, 2011 at 16:20

Simplemente porque comenté que Hola Sinior tiene empleados paraguayos no significa soy discriminador. Era simplemente un observación – y era uno que dije porque las empleadas con que hablé alla hicieron un punto de eso. Y, obviamente, la gran diferencia era que me gustó la shawarma a Hola Sinior, en realidad mientras las salsas no eran muy tradicional en las sabores, la shawarma su misma era rica, y de buena calidad – también las salsas. Si mirás mis criticos varios de lugares que ofrecen shawarma (esta nota es el 6to en un serie) podés ver que hay lugares con todos empleados medio orientales con shawarma peor que ustedes. Sus nacionalidades no significa nada sobre la calidad – posiblemente la familiaridad, pero no la calidad.

Si la shawarma a Malakeh era buena, no tendriamos esta conversación – obvio, aun si dije algo sobre sus nacionalidades. Te recomendo que vale la pena para pasar tu tiempo mejorando la shawarma en tu proprio lugar – y posiblemente alguien como yo, un chef y critico por mas de 35 años, va a decir algo bueno sobre esa…. Si estas felíz con la calidad que ofrecés, bueno, eso es tu opinión y opción para no cambiar nada y tampoco preocuparte con mi opinión. Como te dije, es simplemente esa. Aparentamente tenés mas inversión en mis pensamientos que yo!

dan January 7, 2011 at 16:55

Since the majority of my readers are English speaking, here’s a brief summary of the interchange above, and I’m not going to continue any more with it because it’s a waste of my time, and won’t be constructive.

One of the cooks from Malakeh, the first restaurant reviewed above, which obviously I didn’t like, took exception. Not a surprise, who likes to have their food critiqued, particularly with a negative outcome? He was surprised, first that I’d even visited the place and written about it – I don’t know why, they’d just gotten a big recommendation from a local online foodie site, as noted in the first paragraphs. He corrected me for my analysis of their meat and bread, asserting that the latter comes from a traditional rotisserie style shawarma spit, and is merely sauteed quickly to serve to heat through better (something that shouldn’t be necessary), and that they make their own bread. He took more exception to my noting that the employees are all Argentines, asking if it was a crime.

My response was that no it wasn’t a crime, simply an observation. What was a crime was the shawarma in my opinion (and people often forget that these are just my personal opinions, not judicial pronouncements), as noted in the post the meat was flavorless and gristly, and the bread was bland and poor quality – homemade or not. He did, by the way, note that they now offer more sauces than just what I mentioned above – presumably others have asked for them too. I asserted that the other possible crime was that the staff were simply not familiar with a high quality shawarma, even if their clients were.

He responded that somehow my response, and on further reading of my post, showed that I was a total bigot. After all, I’d mentioned that the employees at another spot were Paraguayans (they made a point of telling me that while I was chatting with the counter girls, again, it was just an observation), and that that essentially proved my critique was worthless, and that I didn’t have the guts to post his comment.

Obviously, I did – I don’t take it personally, the man doesn’t know me and I’m comfortable with myself and my opinions. I pointed out that the fact that the other folks who weren’t middle eastern didn’t lead me to the same conclusion about their shawarma, which I liked and would be happy to have again, even if it wasn’t prepared completely traditionally. And, that I’ve reviewed shawarma over the six-part series that was made by people from the Middle East, and some of them were worse than his. I noted that had I liked his version, we wouldn’t have been having this conversation, regardless of whether I’d mentioned nationalities. I suggested that rather than investing so much ire into my thoughts, he had the option of either spending his time improving his shawarma, and who knows, someone like me might like it, or, if he truly was comfortable, as he asserted, with the quality of what he’s serving, then just ignore me. I somehow doubt he will, but I won’t be passing through any more comments – it would only devolve, I imagine, into more name calling on his part.

Enrique Fragnul January 8, 2011 at 11:11

Dan: I agree with you, it seems that Marcelo don´t care about critics…

dan January 8, 2011 at 13:19

And, that’s his choice – he doesn’t really have to – if he, and most of his customers, like the shawarma the way it is, he should stand behind it – but that’s different from name-calling because someone doesn’t happen to like it. And you know what, I haven’t looked at other reviews of the place, other than the PlanetaJoy one that sent me there in the first place. It’s entirely possible that everything else on the menu is great, or that I just got served one bad shawarma because someone was being lazy or not paying close enough attention. To be honest, had he approached this diplomatically instead of the way he did, I might have gone back to try it again, and/or try other food on the menu. No longer interested.

Ags April 5, 2011 at 01:38

Dan, don’t even bother. I was so happy to have found a shawarma delivery place that delivered to my house! What a disappointment! They apparently nowadays make a “wrap thingie” that I actually regretted not having store bought pita at home to swap and the fries were pitiful. And I’m no chef nor critic! Besides, as they wouldn’t send me a salad and I had a huge craving, I also ordered some tabbouleh. Being of armenian descent, even though I don’t make it myself, I’ve had a huge variety of them. It was the worst I’ve ever had. And now, reading Marcelo’s comments, I regret having ever been a customer of that place (some people make me ashamed of my country *sigh*). They’d do better keeping their mouths shut and making their best to serve good products and speak through their quality. On the other hand, luckily I found Demashk! =o) Really liked the shawarma, tabbouleh was meh imo. I’d rather wait until I can go to Sarkis! =oP
And on a brighter note: thanks for writing your blog, it’s a pleasure to read and your advice is great =o) Would love to be able to go some day to one of your dinners, they sound delightful!

dan April 6, 2011 at 08:19

Ags – Thanks! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the blog. I suppose in a small way it makes me happy that someone else had much the same experience with the quality (I am human after all, and sometimes a little validation helps), though at the same time what a shame for you to have had to receive it.

Hope to meet you one day! We’d be delighted to have you join us.

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