Shawarma Al-Jazeera, a taste of my childhood

If you are one of the handful of people still reading my blog after couple of years of only occasional posts you might know I was born and lived most of my childhood in Saudi Arabia. I hope this would not offend any of my Saudi readers but I really hated the place. We used to live in Abha. It was at the time a small town high up in the mountains close to Yemen. The nature and weather were stunning but that is where the beauty stopped for me. I didn't like anything else about the place. I hated the lack of freedom compared to our summer holidays in Syria. I hated the constant feeling of being a foreigner, and as you might expect being a foreigner in Saudi Arabia is not fun.

The highlight of my life in Saudi was our frequent visits to Jeddah, Saudi's second city on the Red Sea. We used to visit frequently because of dad's work or to sort out some paperwork from the Syrian Consulate or simple to spend the weekend. Jeddah at the time was such a cool place for a young boy. It had an Ikea, massive shopping centres, smoked turkey meat, Levi's Jeans, Authentic Syrian Halawet el-Jeben, and above all Shawarma Al-Jazeera.

Shawerma Al-Jazeera or as became known later Shawerma Shaker Al-Jazeera is allegedly Jeddah's first Shawerma place. A small hole-in-the-wall places with massive beef shawarma skewer. It was perfectly normal for a guy to park his GMC Superban and come to the window to order 40 shawarma sandwiches. In fact most of the orders were in double figures and there was a constant stream of costumers from early evening to early hours in the morning. To cope with the demand the place adopteded a conveyor belt operation. You place an order in one window and the process start. One guy cuts the meat, another mixes it on the hot griddle with the vegetables, the third put the meat in the bread, the next down the line add the sauce and wrap the sandwiches and finally the last guy hands you over your food from a second window. This process continued non-stop, I kid you not. 

The Shawarma itself is nothing like the Syrian or Lebanese variety. The meat has a lot more "Arabic" taste with more spices adapted to the local palate. After the meat is shaved of the massive skewer it was cooked on a flat griddle with onions, parsley, tomatoes and chillies. The sandwiches were made with small white subs and served with nothing but tahini sauce and chilli sauce.

Here is my attempt to recreate a taste of my childhood:

Sirloin or similar tender cut of beef 350g
One onion
One large tomato
One or two green chillis
Garlic 3 cloves
Parsley two handfuls
Yoghurt one tbs
Tahini one tbs
Olive oil 2 tbs
Spices 1/2 tsp each (feel free to improvise) I use black pepper, paprika, allspice, ground ginger and ground coriander

Slice the meat and the vegetable as thin as you can. Take your time. It makes a lot of difference. It allows the vegetables and meat to cook at the same time without losing much liquid and give authentic shawarma feel to the final product (and it is also therapeutic if like me you had a s**t day in the office).

Mix all the ingredients together and let marinade for half an hour at room temperature. 

Heat a large skillet or other heavy-bottomed pan until very hot. Add the meat mixture and cook on high heat for 10-15 minutes until very little liquid is left. The secret to success is to use a hot very large pan. The meat mixture needs to spread evenly in a thin layer. If you don't have a large enough pan cook in patches.

Serve the meat in Arabic flat bread, pita pockets or sub rolls for an authentic experience. Serve with tahini sauce and a chilli sauce of your choice.