If you aren’t a resident of Ottawa, you probably don’t recognize the word shawarma. You may know its cousins as doner (Turkish) or gyros (Greek).
For whatever reason, there is a shawarma restaurant every 5 blocks in Ottawa. They serve several different dishes like falafel and fish, and some even dabble in burgers. But their raison d’etre is shawarma. I estimate that I’ve visited 75% of them at least once, from the sketchy Vanier shawarma, to the fancy gourmet shawarma on Somerset street. I’ve had a few bad experiences (Shawarma at 11am isn’t good. The skewer of chicken hasn’t cooked yet), but the vast majority have been on the good side. And some stray into excellence. My current favourite is Shawarma Andalos, which shares a building with a Burger King at the intersection of Hunt Club and Merivale. Delish.
Shawarma is on the list for every visitor to Ottawa that we host. I’ve never had anyone turn their nose up … perhaps they were just being nice, but I’d like to think that shawarma has won them over.
A shawarma consists of a split fresh pita bread, upon which a healthy dollop of garlic sauce is slathered. Small quantities of shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, and spiced onions are added for some crunchiness and to add complexity. They usually save the best vegetable accompaniment for last: sticks of fuschia-colored pickled turnips. The color alone ishypnotic but the taste is inexplicable.
To finish the sandwich, you then have your choice of either seasoned chicken or beef, which is carved off a rotating skewer cooker. The sandwich is then rolled into wax paper and placed briefly in a sandwich press to seal the deal.
I’m quite certain that I could eat shawarma every day for the rest of my life and be quite content. If we ever move away from Ottawa, I may need to open my own Ottawa-style shawarma restaurant in the new city, both to spread the gospel of shawarma and to ensure my own supply. I can see it now in neon: