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What Is Shawarma?

Also dubbed as shawurma or shawerma (it means “turning” in Arabic), shawarma is a delicious meat treat made from thinly sliced cuts of marinated meat, such as lamb or beef, placed in an inverted cone shape on the rotisserie. 

It’s often served over rice or wrapped with lavash or pita alongside other ingredients. 

Food enthusiasts include a plethora of vegetables into their shawarma wrap, ranging from cucumber to tomatoes. 

Today people across the globe enjoy this deeply seasoned meat, but did you know that the origin of the famous food was once disputed?

In 2011, the Association of Turkish Döner Manufacturers credited Nurman for creating döner kebab (seasoned meat shaved from a vertical rotisserie) in West Berlin, Germany, in 1972.

He also received a lifetime achievement award following his original version of shawarma, which consists of döner kebab meat, vegetables–all wrapped in a flatbread. 

It’s said that Nurman made this wrap version to cater to those people who are interested in buying a kebab-to-go. 

However, some say that the döner has been around before in the Middle East.

In fact, it’s believed that tribesmen of the Ottoman Empire used their sword to skewer meat over an open fire, an ancient cooking preparation popularly known as şiş (Shish).

Furthermore, an article published in 2009 similarly hailed Mahmut Aygun as the first man who put the traditional Turkish kebab in bread. 

Another Turkish immigrant like Nurman and Aygun has also claimed the same crown, Nevzat Salim, who allegedly sold the food in the town of Reutlingen in 1971. 

But wherever it comes from, we can only agree on the fact that it’s one of the greatest foods created and it’s freakin’ delicious!

What does shawarma taste like

Because it’s marinated in seasonings and spices, shawarma tends to be flavorful and juicy. 

And when seasoned with garlic, dried lime, turmeric, and cardamon, expect that every bite is a party in your mouth–it has a complex flavor, ranging from tangy to spicy.

What is shawarma and what does shawarma mean?

Believed to have originated from Ottoman Bursa or current-day Turkey, shawarma is also known as shawurma or shawerma, which means “turning” in Arabic. 

In addition, shawarma comes from the Turkey word “çevirme,” which also means “turning” or “spin.”

Shawarma is made by stacking strips of fat or pieces of seasoned meat on a vertical rotisserie. 

These fats and meats are then slowly roasted and served over rice or as a sandwich or wrap.

Shawarma vs gyro

Keep in mind that shawarma and gyro are two different things. 

Pronounced as YEE-ROH which means “turning” in Greek, a gyro is traditionally made from pork that has been vertically stacked and cooked in a vertical rotisserie. 

In the United States, cooks use lamb, beef, or a combination of the two in their gyro recipe. 

It’s served with pita bread with tomato, onion, and tzatziki (yogurt sauce) as toppings. 

On the other hand, shawarma always relies on its preparation process as well as the seasonings and spices, making it arguably more flavorful than the gyro. 

It’s advisable not to add tzatziki on shawarma wraps as the sauce won’t complement the flavor of the marinated meat. 

But one thing is for sure, both foods can be served with toppings like tahini, tabbouleh, and hummus.

Shawarma vs kebab

Even though both foods are native to Turkish cuisine, shawarma and kebab have a noticeable difference especially when it comes to preparation and cooking methods. 

Shawarma is cooked on a rotisserie while kebab is marinated cubed meat, skewered raw and grilled or roasted, then served on the skewer.

Shawarma vs falafel

Falafel is a traditional Middle Eastern food that’s made from legumes like chickpeas or fava beans then mixed with herbs and spices. 

This mixture is then formed into balls and fried until a golden brown perfection. 

One popular theory says that food was made by the ancient Copts (Egypt) over 4000 years ago as a meat-replacement. 

Falafel is often served in a pita alongside tahini sauce and tabouleh. 

Meanwhile, shawarma is purely made from animal meat.

What is inside a shawarma

Shawarma wrap is consisted of marinated meat (such as beef, goat, or lamb), fresh vegetables (like cucumber and tomatoes), and other condiments (such as hummus, tahini, and tabbouleh)—all of these ingredients are wrapped in a large piece of flatbread or pita.

Tips on serving shawarma

Planning to serve shawarma to your family and friends? These tips should get you started!

  1. When making shawarma wraps, you can use substitute tortilla wrap instead of pita or lavash.
  2. Never add tzatziki sauce on shawarma wraps as this won’t complement the flavor of the marinated meat. 
  3. No pita? Go traditional! Serve shawarma over rice alongside fresh or roasted vegetables. 
  4. You can include vegetables like tomatoes, cucumber, onions, cabbage and carrots in your shawarma wraps.

Best toppings for shawarma

Your favorite shawarma can be served with various toppings such as tahini, hummus, pickled cucumber, onions, cabbage, and tomatoes then eaten alongside fattoush, tabbouleh, taboon bread or fit, rice, and sometimes french fries. 

But take note, you shouldn’t limit your creativity. 

Add whatever ingredients you desire. Just ensure to harmonize the flavor of the seasoned meat to those food items.

The bottom line

Whether you are wrapping up delicious shawarma into a warm, soft pita, naan, or flatbread, or tucking into a platter rife with hummus, rice, pickled beets and onion, this heavenly meat is worth trying, and worth talking about!

Hope you enjoyed our take on this dish.

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