Tourist Tip #192 / Shwarma, That Delectable Mideast Classic

In the mood for some hearty street food? Grab some shwarma on the go - and take plenty of napkins with you.

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
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Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Street food in Israel can be wonderful, and has little in common with fast food in the United States. Flavors tend to be stronger and the food isn't mass-produced. One favorite throughout the Middle East, in various iterations, is the shwarma, reminiscent of the Greek gyro and the Turkish kebab.

Shwarma, simply, is a pita or laffa stuffed with freshly grilled, thinly sliced meat, typically garnished with hummus, tehina, pickled vegetables and fresh salad. And sometimes French fries – known here as chips – get stuffed into the pita too.

Yes, cramming all that into a pita is an art form. So is eating it gracefully. Don't even try. Just grab a napkin and try not to let the juices of the sandwich drip onto your clothes. They can stain.

The meat in shwarma is usually turkey layered with lamb fat, which melts as the skewer gently rotates in the blazing heat of the open-face grill, giving the sandwich a distinct muttony flavor. Or, the base meat can be lamb itself, which typically costs a few shekels more.

Some venues will offer a turkey version, a lamb version and "pargit", which is simply chicken, also often layered with lamb fat.

It's up to you what goes into the pita (pocket bread) or laffa (a flat bread; the meat and condiments are placed into its center and the whole thing is rolled up). The vendor will add the hummus and salad himself, if you want it, but most places have a whole slew of fresh pickles of various types, salads and hot sauces to add on top.

A popular addition to shwarma is amba – a spicy pickled mango sauce that enhances the lamb flavor. Here's another tip: You don't want to let that drip onto your clothes either.

By the way, some venues will offer shwarma on a plate rather than in a pita or laffa. That is exactly the same dish, deconstructed, with pita on the side, and will cost more.

Daboush's classic and irresistable shwarma in a pitaCredit: Sharon Ben David
Deconstructed shwarma with salad on the side.
Rotating shwarma, waiting to be sliced and served. One is chicken, one lamb and one turkey.
Slicing shwarma.
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Deconstructed shwarma with salad on the side. Credit: Boaz Lavie
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Rotating shwarma, waiting to be sliced and served. One is chicken, one lamb and one turkey.Credit: Tess Scheflan
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Slicing shwarma.Credit: Eyal Toueg

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