The Arabic term shawarma is derived from the Turkish word çevirme, meaning “something that revolves/to turn.” Referring to the invention of the vertical rotisserie in parts of Turkey from at least the 18th century, versions of meat cooked in this way arose over many centuries in the culinary culture of Ottoman Turkey, to which many ethnic groups contributed. The Turkish döner, Greek gyros, and Mexican al pastor (brought to Mexico City by Lebanese migrants), as well as the Levantine shawarma, all have roots in the Ottoman Empire.
In the Levant, the emphasis is on the spice marinade, and a wide range of spices is used, varying through cumin, coriander, fennel seeds, fenugreek, cardamom, black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, paprika, and turmeric; and less commonly sumac, mace, mastic, and star anise. In Turkey, the spicing tends to be more minimal — and may even just consist of grated onions — but is likely to include some urfa biber or pul biber, as well as black pepper and cumin. In Greece, the marinade often includes more dried herbs like oregano, as well as paprika and cumin.
In addition to seasoning, a good shawarma requires the use of fatty as well as lean cuts of meat, and ideally, for lamb, the layering of tail fat in each piece. Even more important is the manner of building the meat tower to ensure the correct level of heat hits the different areas of the assemblage as it rotates on the vertical spit.
While in Western cities, shawarma was brought by migrants from the Levant, and has become a favourite late-night snack shaved from vertical spits, in parts of North and West Africa, it has been reinterpreted and adapted according to available cooking technologies and spices. This means that shawarma may no longer refer to the process of slow-cooking on a vertical spit at all, and may simply refer to a dish of spiced, grilled meats in a wrap with some kind of sauce.
In London, this logic has further transpired, and there are many playful reconstructions of the original concept available (some even without meat!) The variety of breads used to wrap up the goods, too, are more abundant than with falafel. In short, London has so much more to offer than the ubiquitous nocturnal combination of pre-minced and greasy meat: here’s where to find the most serious shawarma in the capital.Read More