What Is Shawarma?: Origins And Variations 

If you’ve ever tasted shawarma, you know why this Middle Eastern delicacy has become one of the most popular street foods in the world. It’s a delectable combination of flavorful spices and succulent meat that melts in your mouth. But what exactly is shawarma? Let’s take a journey through this delicious dish to find out!

What Is Shawarma?

Shawarma is a flatbread wrap made with thinly-sliced meat (typically beef, chicken, goat, or lamb) stacked on a vertical spit and cooked slowly over charcoal or gas. The outside layer becomes crispy as it cooks, while the inside stays tender and juicy. It is then shaved off in thin strips and served with accompaniments like hummus, tahini sauce, and pita bread. Shawarma can be served as a wrap or plate with sides like pickles and salads, depending on where it’s made or eaten.  

how to make shawarma

The word shawarma is derived from the Turkish word çevirme, which means “turning” or “rotating.” This is likely because the original shawarma was cooked by rotating pieces of meat over an open flame.

The History Of Shawarma

Shawarma, one of the world’s oldest and most beloved culinary creations, has been tantalizing taste buds for centuries. It is a dish steeped in history and culture, with roots that can be traced back to ancient Mesopotamia. Here, we take a closer look at when and where it all began.

Ancient Mesopotamia Origins

The earliest known recipes for shawarma can be traced back to ancient Mesopotamia, now known as Iraq and Kuwait. At this time, people would cook whole animals, such as sheep or goats, over an open flame and then slice off pieces of meat to eat. This cooking method was eventually adopted by countries such as Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and most of the North African region during the heyday of the Ottoman Empire.

Evolution Throughout History

Shawarma has evolved since its early days in Mesopotamia. It has spread from its Middle Eastern roots to be enjoyed across the world in various ways. In Israel, shawarma is typically made with chicken or turkey and served over laffa bread. Lebanese versions involve marinated cuts of either beef, lamb, or both wrapped up with pickles, tomatoes, and garlic sauce into a flatbread called arayes. Shawarma will continue to evolve as people around the world come up with new, innovative recipes to enjoy.

Types of Shawarma

shawarma plate

The beauty of shawarma lies in its versatility; every region puts its own spin on this classic dish. Let’s take a quick tour! 

Middle Eastern Shawarmas

Arabic (or Lebanese) shawarma is the most common type, with variations found across the Middle East. It typically consists of either beef or lamb marinated overnight with various spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, nutmeg, paprika, and turmeric. The meat is then cooked on a vertical rotating spit for several hours until it is perfectly charred and succulent. Some versions include chicken or turkey breast, pickled vegetables, and tahini sauce. 

Turkish Doner Kebabs

The Turkish version of shawarma is called doner kebab (or simply doner). It is similar to Lebanese shawarma but usually features chicken or veal instead of beef or lamb. The meat is marinated overnight in olive oil and herbs before being cooked on a vertical spit over an open flame. When ready to be served, it’s thinly sliced off the spit and placed inside flatbread with fresh vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, red onions, and cabbage for additional flavor. For even more zingy flavor—and heat—it can be topped off with hot sauce or chili flakes!

Greek Gyros

Gyros (pronounced “yee-rohs”) is yet another variation of shawarma that originated in Greece. Gyros traditionally use pork that has been marinated overnight in oregano and lemon juice before being cooked on a spit over a charcoal fire until it’s crispy on the outside but juicy inside. It is then served as a wrap or platter with sides such as potatoes mixed with tzatziki, onions, mushrooms, feta cheese cubes, and olives.

Final Thoughts

Whether it’s served hot or cold, there’s no denying that shawarmas are one of the most delicious treats around the world today. From its origins in ancient Mesopotamia to its modern-day ubiquity across Europe, this tasty street meat continues to tantalize taste buds everywhere! If you’re looking for an unforgettable culinary experience, remember to add shawarmas to your must-eat list while traveling through this part of the world!

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