I crave shawarma, and if I were banished to a deserted island and told I could only eat one specific thing for the rest of my life, I'd probably pick shawarma.
I'm picky, though: I adore the style of shawarma I encountered in Israel, and the best representations I've seen in the U.S. have been in places catering to the Kosher community. My all-time favorite is the one at Max's Kosher Deli in Wheaton, MD (a northern suburb of DC), but I've enjoyed others such as at Grill Point in Flushing, NY, Jerusalem in the UWS of NYC, etc. (You'll see lots of yarmulkes at both.) I've also had surprisingly good shawarma in both Vancouver and Toronto, though the barely-related "donair" found in the Maritimes is barely edible (the sauce is way too sickly sweet and not at all like the delicious döner kebabs you'll find in Germany and Turkey--if anyone knows of a place that does a good döner kebab, let me know, too--as best I can tell, the Doner Kebab House on Semple in Oakland closed down, and Turkish Kebab House on Forbes in Squirrel Hill doesn't really do actual döner kebab sandwiches).
Some identifying characteristics of this type of "Israeli" shawarma:
-Fairly hefty; one can serve as a whole meal
-Often (not always) served in a rounded pita-type bread with a hollow inside pocket (good for not dripping sauce everywhere!)
-Pickles are not usually a key ingredient
-Heavily sauced with hummus, tahini, often some hot sauce, and other sauces
-Lots of other bulk added to the sandwich (lettuce, tomato/cucumber salad, onions, etc.)
-Can sometimes be topped with a couple of small falafel (mmm!)
On the other hand, I really don't enjoy the other style of shawarma that I have had in a lot of Lebanese restaurants here in the U.S. and other places in the Arab world.
Some identifying characteristics of this type of "Lebanese" shawarma:
-Usually much smaller, about the size of maybe an enchilada. You need at least a couple to fill you up.
-Often served in a thinner laffa wrap and eaten like a burrito
-Long, skinny slices of pickle are always prominently included
-Not heavily sauced, and the sauce is generally a thin, garlicky paste (toum)
What I've found is that most places in the U.S. that serve shawarma tend to serve the latter, "Lebanese" type. I've had it (accidentally) several times at top-rated Middle Eastern (usually Lebanese) places in DC and even in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, a heavily Jewish neighborhood (places with menus in Arabic thrive in Jewish neighborhoods there, I guess) as well as all over the the Middle East (the UAE, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and even Israel's neighbor, Jordan--I tried three places in Aqaba and was unable to replicate the style of shawarma served right across the border in Eilat).
On the other hand, I've found the third-best shawarma I've ever had in the U.S. at a place in San Luis Obispo, CA, Petra, owned by a family from Jordan, but it's definitely the Israeli-style one (though my favorite of theirs is the locally-inspired tri-tip shawarma). So maybe Jordan isn't all Lebanese-style shawarma.
*Anyway, I have two questions in this post:*
1) Can any shawarma experts help me refine the differences between the two styles of shawarma I've described above, perhaps correcting the terms I've used and names of specific ingredients?
2) Any tips on where to look for specifically Israeli-style shawarma so I don't accidentally get the Lebanese-style ones (which I keep getting, even at Middle Eastern places in heavily-Jewish Squirrel Hill). Tips on must-try places? I'm in Greenfield, but no geographical limit--willing to drive far and wide, day or night. Good shawarma is worth a trip. :)
Thanks and happy shawarma!
For some photographic evidence of the two discrete types of shawarma as I see them, I present:
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