the law of shwarma

Shwarma is a glorious thing. Take a giant spool of meat, spin it around a continuous flame, drippings marinating the meat and landing on a griddle below where toppings get a quick sizzle before hitting the bread and, soon after, your mouth. It’s street food, so it’s always cheap.

As I discover more and more shwarma around the world, unfortunately I find that it’s not always as delicious as it should be (and delicious shwarma is a thing of pure beauty). So, in honor of my political research methods class, I put forth this theory to be tested:

The further away that a given shwarma stand is from the original epicenter of shwarma goodness, the worse it will taste.

Definitions – The epicenter of shwarma is, as a known and accepted fact, the Middle East. But we have to get specific. Farrell claims Istanbul has the best, while I would peg it to the Levant. So, for the purposes of our study, we’re considering the general bubble surrounding Istanbul, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.

Examples: Cafeteria Reem, Amman, Jordan. Recognized by the New York Times for its awesome shwarma. Observation and testing, performed by yours truly, prove that this shwarma is juicy, scant on unnecessary toppings, cheap, and popular. A popular shwarma stand is one of the most important traits of good shwarma. Otherwise, the cone of meat is just sitting on its spool, exposed to city smog and flies. Lots of customers ensures the freshness of your shwarma.

Damascus, Syria – some random stand in the old city, behind the Ummayyad Mosque. Kirstin’s seal of approval.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – I had high hopes, considering the extensive Middle Eastern influence on the city, but by the time Farrell and I arrived at a park to sit down and enjoy our shwarma, the copious amounts of bland, red sauce had completely integrated with the hot dog bun that the shwarma man so incorrectly insisted on encasing the meat in. I was left with a puddle of mushy bread. I couldn’t even bring myself to photograph the disappointment, let alone eat it.

And, most recently, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan – Farrell and I were wandering around one day, desperately hunting for lunch and only finding places with Russian menus (a translating task we were too hungry to deal with). Eventually we came up to a (mostly deserted) food stand that had three things on the menu: gamboorger, khod dog (hot dog), and shwarma. Cheap food that we could point to, and hey, I love shwarma, right?

A flimsy, bland tortilla stuffed mostly with sliced carrots and cucumber, tough french fries, and about a bucket each of mayo and some Kyrgyz version of ketchup. There were little chips of dry meat thrown in every few bites.

Ugh, all I can say is, “COME ON!” I’m sure we didn’t stop by the best place in town for shwarma, but is it really so difficult to leave a couple liters of mayo off of anything?

The Coca-Cola was the best part of the meal… and it was lukewarm.

The study will continue at some Turkish restaurants in town that I’ve heard wonderful things about. Upon completion of that case study, special care will be taken considering its shwarma-core origins in a shwarma-periphery location.