Think of the Middle East and it is hard to miss Dubai. A melting pot of cuisines, architecture and cultures, Dubai stands out for its extravagance. Anything the world does, Dubai does it with a little more oomph and glamour, and food is no exception. First-timers tend to go overboard on Shawarma but come back either having the same in multiple places or wondering what the ‘authentic’ Shawarma is. So, here are the various types of Shawarma that you can enjoy in Dubai.
The most popular type of shawarma, the Lebanese variety, is all over town. The focus of the Lebanese shawarma is the meat itself and while the French Fries, Pickled Vegetables and Garlic Paste all add to the flavour, the meat is king. Most restaurants use the word ‘meat’ on the menu and so it is a good idea to check what meat it is – in most Lebanese restaurants, the meat is veal, though lamb is not uncommon. Chicken, though is clearly mentioned as Chicken Shawarma. Al Safadi - a Lebanese restaurant on Sheik Zayed Road is a great place to have this.
With more than a handful of Syrians residing in the UAE, Syrian restaurants are dotted all over Dubai. Needless to say, all of them will have the shawarma on the menu, but one look at it, and you should be able to spot the difference. Using the Syrian bread to roll the shawarma, the rolls are longer and flatter than your usual Lebanese shawarma, and the meat is the dominant flavour here, with both chicken and beef variants. Diwan Al Hana on Sheik Zayed Road is a perfect place to get a taste of Syria.
Known as the Doner Kebab all over the world, however, restaurants in Dubai still call them the Shawarma. Possibly the mother of all vertical meat roasting techniques and therefore the ‘original’ shawarma, the Turkish Shawarma stands out with its spices and the super thinly sliced meat, which takes on a crisp and slightly charred texture compared to its other cousins. Istanbul Flower restaurant near Safeway shopping centre and Bosporus in the Dubai mall are two excellent places to savour this dish.
There is an ongoing joke about how people from Kerala, fondly called ‘mallus’ outnumber the Arabs in Dubai! With a sizable population, there had to a version dedicated to this community and the Malabar Shawarma is no different. Less meaty and slightly spicier, the Malabar Shawarmas are best had in the Old Dubai region, especially near the Gold Souk. Kiosks are the best place to look at this twisted variant of the Lebanese Shawarma.
While not as common as the others, Gyros, which is a spin-off from the Arabic version, can be found in Dubai if you know where to look. While the spinning meat is similar to the Arabic versions, the Gyros does have a whole lot of topping piled on top that takes the attention away, albeit slightly, from the meat. Mythos - a Greek restaurant in Dubai serves both the chicken and (one of the few places) Pork Gyros.
With slight but noticeable differences, the Shawarma, Gyros and Doner are all variants of the vertical spinning meat loaded onto different types of bread, stuffed with fillings that turn out be a hearty snack. But with so many varieties, which one is your favourite?
Wasim, a doctor by profession, practices preventive and wellness medicine, and, therefore, food is a large part of his practice. He started off writing about food to tell the world that good food and good health are not mutually exclusive. With work having taken him to more than 25 countries, he has started looking at food habits and food history from around the world. His work has been featured in leading publications including Conde Nast Traveler, BBC Travel, The Week, The Hindu among others.