Shawarma (/ʃəˈwɑːrmə/; Arabic: شاورما) is a popular Levantine dish consisting of meat cut into thin slices, stacked in a cone-like shape, and roasted on a slowly-turning vertical rotisserie or spit. Originally made with lamb or mutton, it is now also made of chicken, turkey, beef, or veal. Thin slices are shaved off the cooked surface as it continuously rotates. Shawarma is one of the world’s most popular street foods, especially in Egypt, the countries of the Levant, the Caucasus, the Arabian Peninsula and the rest of the Middle East.
Shawarma in Lebanon, 1950
Although the roasting of meat on horizontal spits has an ancient history, the shawarma technique—grilling a vertical stack of meat slices and cutting it off as it cooks—first appeared in the 19th-century Ottoman Empire, in what is now Turkey, in the form of doner kebab. Both the Greek gyros and shawarma are derived from this. Shawarma, in turn, led to the development during the early 20th century of the contemporary Mexican dish tacos al pastor when it was brought there by Lebanese immigrants.
Shawarma is prepared from thin cuts of seasoned marinated lamb, mutton, veal, beef, chicken, or turkey. The slices are stacked on a skewer about 60 cm (20 in) high. Pieces of fat may be added to the stack to provide extra juiciness and flavor. A motorized spit slowly turns the stack of meat in front of an electric or gas-fired heating element, continuously roasting the outer layer. Shavings are cut off the rotating stack for serving, customarily with a long flat knife.
Spices may include cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric and paprika, and in some areas baharat. Shawarma is commonly served as a sandwich or wrap, in a flatbread such as pita or laffa. In the Middle East, chicken shawarma is typically served with garlic sauce, fries, and pickles. In Syria and Lebanon, the garlic sauce that is served with the sandwich depends on the meat. Toum or Toumie sauce is made from garlic, vegetable oil, lemon, and egg white or starch, and is usually served with chicken shawarma. Tarator sauce is made from garlic, tahini sauce, lemon, and water , and is served with beef shawarma.
In Israel, most shawarma is made with dark meat turkey and is commonly served with tahini sauce because serving yogurt sauce with meat would violate the Jewish dietary restriction of not eating milk and meat together. It is often garnished with diced tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions, pickled vegetables, hummus, tahini sauce or amba mango sauce. Some restaurants may offer additional toppings like grilled peppers, eggplant or french fries.
- Shawarma in a pita
- Shawarma in “cheese” (top) and “regular” (bottom) lavash
- Mixed shawarma
- Slicing and preparation
- Shawarma on a plate
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