In today’s world, shawarma is a staple street cuisine in Asia and the Middle East. Traditionally served as a chicken sandwich, Shawarma has also grown to become a well-known food dish in the United States.
The famous Saleh family has always been passionate about being the ambassadors of their country’s (Lebanese) food and cuisine, but there were some kind of hurdles in sharing chicken shawarma with restaurant guests in their North Carolina house when the ‘Neomonde’ first opened its doors about 40 years ago.
The restaurant scene in the United States was quite different back then. Mediterranean food and cuisine had not yet achieved the popularity it enjoys today, & food regulations were also extremely different.
After continuous journeys between Lebanon and his new house in the state of North Carolina, Sam Saleh – who was one of the three founding brothers of Neomonde – desired to innovate a safe and reliable procedure for this beloved food dish to comply with United States food and cuisine regulations – which would not permit for open any kind of rotisseries spits at the time.
What is Shawarma and How it’s Made?
Shawarma is usually made from marinated chicken or meat that has been slow roasted on a vertical spit for hours – the meat can be anything from beef or chicken to goat, turkey or can be a combination of any of these animals.
Once cooked, the meat of shawarma is carved off in the thin, wide strips and then stuffed inside a flatbread along with different vegetables, like lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, pickles & parsley. Condiments can vary from yummy garlic yoghurt to flavorful hummus to chilli and sour pickled mango sauce, & while the type of flatbread used will vary depending upon where live, pita, lavash and taboon are most famous ones.
Origin of Shawarma
Most people will agree to this point that the secret to chicken shawarma’s taste lies in the way the meat is roasted or cooked and much more credit must go to the cooks of the Ottoman Empire (1299 to 1923) who were among the very first people to see the advantage of roasting meat vertically.
They noticed this thing that horizontal roasting robbed the meat of all of its tasty fat as it directly dripped into the fire – worse still, as it did so it brought about the flames to rise, scorching the outside of the chicken as a result.
Vertical roasting of chicken means that the meat is fully bathed in its own fat as it cooks, making it even softer, tender and more delicious, and keeping the fire flames under control helps the meat to be cooked nice and slowly, cooking it to perfection.
Born in Bursa
While the Ottomans definitely got the ball rolling with their vertical style roasting system, it is considered that the chicken shawarma we all know and eat today did not come into being until the late 18th century thanks to a man named Iskender Efendi. It is considered that Efendi made the first ever chicken shawarma around 1870 in the city of Bursa.
What is the Difference Between Shawarma and Gyros?
You may be thinking that chicken shawarma sounds awfully alike to its Greek counterpart, called gyros. If you’re then you are not wrong.
Both of the street foods have pieces of meat wrapped up in pita bread or some other flatbread alongside fresh vegetables. Truly speaking, the meat in both of these food items is cooked in a similar way – vertically, and both of them are considered as classic street foods.
So, what’s the thing that sets chicken shawarma apart? The answer lies in their garnish. Chicken shawarma is all about the tasty sauces with meat – typically garlic yoghurt or tahini or tasty hummus – and the secret food ingredient: pickles.
Pickled vegetables are what take chicken shawarma to a whole new level: vegetables such as cucumbers, turnips, and even carrots are the most common ones.
Recipe: How To Make Chicken Shawarma With Fresh Homemade Pita