Shawarma is the OG “meat on a stick.” For those familiar with al pastor, shawarma was the al pastor before there was al pastor. Shawarma is meat that is placed on a stick, which slowly rotates and cooks over time. It will rotate and slowly cook throughout the day. Then, when someone orders shawarma, the chef will then shave the meat directly off the stick. Some shawarma places have what looks like high-powered machinery to shave the meat, while others will simply use a knife.
Lay of the Land
When it comes to shawarma meats, there are typically three options:
Chicken: Looking for an explosion of flavor? If so, chicken is the best option for you. Packed with intense notes of garlic and spices, chicken shawarma will have your mouth watering. Chicken shawarma done right will have the moist tender slices of chicken mixed with the crunchier pieces from the outer layer of shavings.
Lamb: Lamb is the more traditional shawarma, but it is an acquired taste for most. For those who have had lamb before you know that lamb tastes like lamb, and there is no better way to describe it. Although it may look similar to beef, it has a much more gamey taste. Some love the gaminess of lamb, and for others, it is simply just not their cup of tea. If you are on the fence about trying lamb shawarma, you can always “dip your toes in” with this next option.
Mixed Meat: Mixed meat is, in most cases, a combination of beef and lamb. For many, this offers the best of both worlds, the familiar taste of beef cut and the unique gaminess of lamb. For those who are looking to slowly move out of their comfort zone, but aren’t ready to fully dive into “lamb land,” mixed meat offers a nice bridge.
So, How Do I Get This Delicious Meat In My Mouth?
There are many methods for eating shawarma, and different cultures have different iterations of these methods. For example, a pita you’ll find in Israel will be very different than a pita you’ll find in Egypt. Below, we will outline a few of the most popular methods:
Pita: Having a good pita should be like biting into a cloud, with a light and airy texture. A pita is a round flatbread with a hole sliced through it, in which delicious meats and condiments are stuffed. They can be eaten on-the-go, and typically will have vegetables such as lettuce, cucumber, pickles, and tomatoes. However, this all depends on the region in which you are having the pita. If you are lucky enough, the pita might even have french fries inside (No, they don’t call this Cali style). The same can go for sauces. Some pitas will have tahini, some will have spicy garlic sauce, and some will have mystery sauces. With pitas, there is room to get creative.
Roll Up: Pitas are great, but for some, they just don’t have enough substance. This is where the roll up comes into play. These are a mix of a burrito and wrap, and they are are “big bois.” Even the most ambitious eaters will be full after one of these. Roll ups usually come loaded with all of the same goodies as your typical pita.
Dinner Plates: A more formal dining experience, dinner plates will typically come with rice and salad, along with the sides. These sides can include hummus, baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, and everything in between. If a place makes a good pita, then their sides are most likely worth having as well.