Shawarma: why Abu Dhabi’s favourite snack will never go out of fashion
The men step up to the skewers. Methodically they slice down, slivers of chicken and lamb falling to the plates, each full of plump, roast tomatoes or piles of French fries.
Barely have they finished when another man scoops up a handful of meat from underneath the spits, stuffing it into a warm pita bread.
All around the city the same scenario plays out – thousands of shawarma, the popular street food snack, being made and eaten. While many countries in the region and beyond enjoy the sandwich, some believe it originated in Turkey.
Ahmed, an Egyptian expatriate, works behind the counter at Mansour Restaurant and Grill, perhaps better known by its previous monicker Al Safadi.
Every night he and his colleague make about 700 sandwiches. Chicken, they say, is the favourite.
“Would you like some?,” his colleague says, putting a sandwich into my hand.
A chicken shawarma usually comes with pickles and thoom, a fluffy garlic paste, and a smattering of fries, while lamb will normally be paired with tahini paste, onions and tomatoes.
For Ahmed, who has worked in the UAE for 18 months, there is only one choice.
“Yes, I like shawarma, lamb,” he says, adding that back home in Egypt most people go for this option over chicken.
In Khalidiya, numerous brightly-lit restaurants line the inner roads, each advertising the popular snack – either via in-your-face signs or by the glistening, enticing spits.
Cars line up next to Shish Shawerma, customers being handed their orders as they wait patiently. Nearby, a delivery driver loads up his motorbike with his latest order. A short walk away, sandwiched between Lavender Beauty Salon and Pet Land Fishes is Show Shawarma.
Look further along the road and the staff at Kings Shawarma get ready for the long night ahead, each wearing black and red in keeping with the theme of the shop design. Each shawarma shop has its taste. “It’s different. We have another taste,” says Ahmed, another Egyptian expatriate.
At the Khalidiya branch of Lebanese Flower, an Abu Dhabi institution, the crowds gather as the sun sets and hunger sets in.
About 1,500 shawarma are sold every night at the branch, one of several in the city, and the number is only rising, says Abdulkarim, who has worked in the Khalidiya location for 13 years.
Back home in Syria, he says, shawarma was more of a treat. As a child, with his family, he would have it once a month or once every two months.
The price there was the same as here – although each shawarma costs Dh7 at Lebanese Flower, the price has doubled over the past decade. Inside, the restaurant begins to fill with hungry customers.
The meal has become popular with people from all over the world, says Abdulkarim, as he lays one of the sandwiches on the table.
“All the Arabic countries, they love shawarma. Even in America and Europe, also.”
At one table of three people, a plate of Mexican shawarma arrives and the customers are eager to dig in.
“You think that’s enough?” one jokes, as they tuck into the hefty plate of chicken, bread and fries – not to mention the decent sized portion of garlic paste. “Time to attack,” he says, as dinner begins.
Zaineb Al Hassani is a senior news editor at The National.
Updated: December 31, 2015 04:00 AM