Shawarma is a type of street food that can be found in many countries in the Middle East. It can be purchased quickly from street venders and consumed on-the-go. Though the recipes for and ingredients in shawarma differ from region to region, traditionally, the dish consists of meat, a sauce, and various toppings, which are all wrapped together in a piece of flatbread. The dish is often cooked outside, though concerns about the safety of outdoor cooking have led some countries to require that cooking be done indoors and under strict sanitary guidelines.
Though shawarma is a dish found all over the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Europe, the word itself is an approximation of an Arabic word. In Arabic, shawarma is a verb that means, “to turn.” In other countries that have a shawarma-like dish, the word for the dish varies, but the meaning remains the same. The Greek dish gyros, the Turkish dish doner kebab, and the Armenian dish tarna all have names that are variations of the word for turning.
The first place to have served shawarma was the Turkish city of Bursa. In Bursa, the dish was called by its Turkish name, doner kebab. It was invented in the 19th century and quickly gained popularity as it was adopted by nearby societies.
Most of the time, shawarma and other similar dishes employ the use of a vertical, turning spit in order to cook the meat. Thin slices of meat — commonly chicken, beef, lamb, or goat — are arranged on the spit in a cone-shape, with the wide end on top. The spit is turned above or in front of a heating element, which slowly cooks the meat over the course of the day. The meat on the outside of the cone, which cooks faster than the meat on the inside, is shaved off and placed in the wrap as it is ordered. Occasionally, the meat is cooked over a charcoal grill on horizontal skewers.
Shawarma may be named for the way the meat is cooked, but there are a number of other important ingredients in the dish as well. The bread that is used to wrap the ingredients together is usually the type of flatbread that is traditionally eaten in the area. Lavash, pita, and taboon are are often used. Various types of sauces are also used in a shawarma, including garlic sauce, tahini, or amba. When they are available, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers are often put into the wrap as well.