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One of the last times I was in the Middle East, I found myself drawn toward a certain smell as I walked the streets of Bethlehem. The smoke and aroma emerging from a Shawarma spit captivated my senses and sidetracked my path to the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square. The locals told me the Shawarma restaurant made the best Shawarma in the city and usually sold out before lunch time, when they’d close until the next day. Already salivating like Pavlov’s dogs, I headed toward the enticing scent of the Shawarma grill.
I spent my time in the long line watching the beautiful spinning fragrant beef and the chef, as he expertly sliced the Shawarma right off the spit. I was mesmerized. When it was my turn, he assembled my sandwich by slicing the tip of the pita, accessing the deep pocket before stuffing it full of the Shawarma beef, tomato and cucumber salad, red shredded cabbage, onions, Tahini and hot sauce. I could hardly wait to taste the meat nestled in the bottom, marinating in all the juices from the fixings. The acidity of the salad coupled with the spicy meat and creaminess of the Tahini sauce provided the perfect combination…I was hooked. This was, by far, the best Shawarma sandwich I’d ever eaten.
Another trip to the Middle East gave me the opportunity to taste a different spin, so to speak, of the Shawarma. I walked into the Shawarma take-out joint and was struck by the sheer size of the spit. While it appeared an entire cow was spinning on this giant grill, this time I’d have the chance to taste a chicken Shawarma. Since the place with the huge grill produced rather small sandwiches, I ordered two.
Rather than stuffing the pita, this chef piled the chicken on top of it, adding some garlic aioli and rolling it up. No salad, no Tahini or hot sauce; just garlic aioli and perhaps a hint of curry. I bit in and was certainly not disappointed.
Discovering the variation in the Shawarmas motivated me to seek out more. I found that the Shawarma is becoming increasingly popular around the world, with a variety of meats and fixings dependent on where the sandwiches are served. For instance, in Australia, Shawarmas were introduced by Greeks, Armenians, Turks and Lebanese. There the sandwiches are wrapped, like the chicken one I had in the take-out joint. But the meats vary – beef, chicken or lamb, with lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese and sauce wrapped up with the meat. The sauces vary as well – garlic sauce, known as Tzatziki, chili sauce, hummus, tomato and barbecue. Some are served toasted, which is different than the ones I’d tasted.
The local version served in Canada consists of beef or chicken shaved off the Shawarma grill and added to vegetables wrapped in pita with a garlic or sesame sauce and in China, street vendors sell Shawarmas mixed with zucchini and spices common to the country.
I found that it’s not just in China where Shawarmas are popular street food – you’ll also find vendors common in the streets of Brazil, Egypt, Georgia, Israel, Lebanon, the Philippines, Russia, Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela and West Africa, to name a few. In the United States, the popularity of the Shawarma (often referred to as a Gyro here) among U.S. soldiers returning home from the Middle East is widespread. Of course, areas in the States with large populations of Arabs or Jews, such as New York City, California, and Southern Florida also have their share of Shawarmas being served throughout.
I’ve enjoyed searching out the unique flavors of Shawarmas in various places. Like I said, I was hooked back in Bethlehem with the beef Shawarma. But I thoroughly enjoy the ones made with lamb, goat, chicken, turkey or a mixture thereof as well. The variety of spices, vegetables and sauces make them even more enticing. Of course, I can’t spend all my time looking for new and different Shawarma sandwiches, as much as I’d like to.
I decided I wanted to have my own personal Shawarma grill right here in my own backyard. Problem was, other than commercial-sized Shawarma machines with vertical Shawarma broilers or spinning grillers, what I was looking for wasn’t available. As a chef by passion, and a businessman, I realized what I had to do – design my own Shawarma machine, small enough for a backyard, yet packed full with all the bells and whistles of a local Shawarma shop. I looked at the commercial Shawarma machine designs and started downsizing, being careful not to compromise on the features. What I came up with was the Spinning Grillers® Mini Gyro Machine, a 12 lb. capacity vertical Shawarma broiler perfect for backyard Shawarma grilling.
My stainless steel Spinning Grillers® Shawarma machine is a perfect addition to your backyard cooking needs, with features such as an adjustable heat shield that concentrates heat for cooking and directs it away from the operator, adjustable skewer, drip pan, drip pan cover, and a catch pan. The easy to clean stainless steel cabinet houses heaters which seal in juices, allowing less meat shrinkage and more servings per pound. Spinning Grillers® uses the exact ratio of heat intensity and platform revolutions per minute to ensure the meat is prepared with a crisp outside and juicy inside. An automatic slip clutch stops rotation during slicing, allowing for quick and easy carving. Plus, by using propane gas, you get the authentic taste of your local Shawarma shop without compromising any elements of a true Shawarma sandwich.
The best part is, with Spinning Grillers® you can make Chicken Shawarma, Turkey Shawarma, Beef Shawarma, Lamb Shawarma, Gyros, Doner Kabob and Tacos al Pastor. You’ll be the talk of the neighborhood as friends and family gather around your spinning grill, savoring the aroma and awaiting the incomparable flavor that only you can create. Let the others grill hamburgers and hotdogs; you and I will be using our Shawarma grills to bring a bit of the exotic to our backyard barbecues.
No more walking the streets of Bethlehem, or my home town of New York City, in search of a good Shawarma place. Now I just have to step outside my back door.
Tacaos al Pastor