Shawarma – Arabic street food with a sense

When night falls in this Middle Eastern city of Dubai, expat workers turn on their car engines and ready themselves to face the traffic. The shawarma chefs don their aprons and turn on the fire.

Shawarma in Dubai

When we first arrived here in 2007, we were immediately intrigued by this exotic street food. After more than 10 years of eating Japanese food, a simple sandwich like this is ‘exotic’ enough for us. We ate it at the rate of how people eat McDonalds in America. No kidding. What is a shawarma? A shawarma is a Middle Eastern sandwich-like wrap filled with shaved meat – either chicken, lamb, beef or a combination of any. Other things in the sandwich include pickles, vegetables like lettuce and tomatoes and sometimes french fries(!) and garlic sauce.

Shawarma

~ Syrian shawarma maker ~

Most shawarmas are made outside restaurants and these shawarma shops can be spotted easily by their towering logs of revolving meat and vertical red cookers. It’s a pleasure to see these shawarma shops along with the small cafeterias at night. The meat in these meat towers are usually shaved using a long wield knife by a shawarma cutter, dressed in white like that of a French chef. There’s an aluminum plate below where the shaved meat falls and blends with the delicious dripping. The pan also allows the vegetables to soak up the meat juices from above, giving them a that extra oomph later on. Then the chef fills an Arabic bread or a paper thin bread (Iranian/Syrian style) with the meat and vegetables, wrap it in paper and handed to you. Interestingly, not all shawarmas you see in Dubai are created equal. The shawarmas in the streets is a country to country experience, changing by taste even in the same neighborhood.

shawarma

The best sharwarma we had is the Iran and Syrian style where the outside of the sandwich is seared crispy on top of a hot plate. This kind of shawarma uses a distinctively thinner sandwich than the traditional Arabic bread so there’s more juicy, delicious filling than the starchy bread.

Shawarma in Dubai

I haven’t been to any other countries in the Middle East but in Dubai, most shawarma shops in the street are open only in the evenings so don’t expect that you can have it at lunch although you can find shawarmas inside some food courts, malls and restaurants.

Shawarma in the city

Shawarma in the city

So, after almost four years in Dubai, we’ve had lots of bad, good, could do better, so-so and great shawarmas. We know where to and not to go, mostly. One of the best ones we frequent to is very near where we live. Every time we take a night stroll with a shawarma sandwich in our hands we always think:

This would be one of the things we’ll miss when we leave Dubai.

This post has been entered into the Grantourismo HomeAway Holiday Rentals-travel blogging competition.

45 thoughts on “Shawarma – Arabic street food with a sense

  1. There are Shawarmas everywhere in Montreal too, mostly because of the large Lebanese population. So delicious! I missed them while living in Eastern Europe for years, and was so happy to have them once again now that we are living in Dubai 🙂

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  2. Mmmm, I had some Arabic food at college graduation with my husband (then fiancee) and finally shawarmas when we went to Saudi last year. Soooo yummy! We don’t have them here at all. 😦

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    • Hello Lara,

      Thanks for dropping by!

      I have just started blogging about food/posting some recipes on the blog and I haven’t found the right one deserving to enter your contest. I’m overwhelmed by the great entries everytime — Maybe next time. 🙂

      Regards to Terry!

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  3. There’s a place called Momo’s in Satwa that presses down their Shawarma with an iron like tool; the result is a wrap that traps in all the meat juices and the veggies together making it more flavorful. I make it a point to have one once a week.

    Yep, truly one of those things that you’ll miss when you leave Dubai…..

    Hmm, do i sense a hanging detail in that last sentence of your post…..

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    • LOL!! No hanging detail..we are not leaving — YET! 🙂
      It’s those spontaneous conversations that arise after living here for almost 4 years…we love the place yet we know it’s not for the long run..one day, like most expats, we will eventually leave…you know, that kind of sappy moments ha ha ha

      BTW, yeah, I know that place in Satwa (it’s Iranian shawarma). Actually that was our first try of the thin crust, crispy type shawarma.

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  4. i love shawarmas – my hips don’t lie!!

    Which shawarama place is this? I’ll have to give it a go!

    my favourites here are Al Mallah on Al Diyafah Street and Eat and Drink

    @ James: i guess you’ll have to have a falafel which is delicious and animal friendly!

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  5. Hi Grace,like you I really love shawarma too! Here in the Philippines there’s a lot of shawarma’s store inside the malls. They were really great. It really taste so good. Here, shawarma was sold all days until 6pm. Every break time I always go to the near mall and buy shawarma beef. I love it!

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  6. Here in the Philippines there?s a lot of shawarma?s store inside the malls. They were really great. It really taste so good. Here, shawarma was sold all days until 6pm. Every break time I always go to the near mall and buy shawarma beef. I love it!

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  7. I love shawarma. I had it first time in chennai. There are few evening stalls in chennai selling shawarma. But the problem is everthing will be sold out by 10pm. I too feel that its far better than McD. Now I think I can survive very well in mid-east 😉

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  8. I ate many shawarma from a street cart near the town of Hafir-Al-Batin, in Saudi Arabia, while serving in the Army. 1st Gulf War. This was the best I have had. I cant find anyone that can recreate that flavor. They were fifty cents (American) each. I bought ten at a time. Man I wish I had one of those now!

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    • Hi, thanks for visiting my blog! I visited yours too and will come back to read all the travel posts! I still can’t believe there’s shawarma in Denmark! Awesome!

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  9. I love schawarma too! In fact, I write a blog about kebabs and am writing a book about the topic too. Grace, it’s great to see there are good schawarma in Dubai. I visited a few years ago but didn’t find many there then. Can I link to your post please?

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  10. Hello Grace,

    Ok,ive been told this is the best place to binge on shawarmas but i havent found “the place” yet. Where in Qusais, do u think i shoud try?? 🙂

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  11. I have tried many shawarma in the world including the Philippines shawarma and in Saudi Arabia because I really love shawarma. If you say the shawarma is good here in Philippines, I should say that the shawarma in Saudi Arabia is way better than you expect. The shawarma in Saudi was so delicious and its so far from the taste in the Philippines’s shawarma. I am a Filipino full blood and I should say that the best shawarma ive tasted in my life is in Saudi Arabia, with its chicken, fries and garlic sauce. ive been craving now haha.

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