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What is Shawarma?

Updated on January 30, 2013
Shawarma | Source

Shawarma in "The Avengers"

Shawarma sales skyrocket!

It seems that The Avengers movie may have done for Los Angeles area shawarma sales what the 1982 blockbuster, E.T., did for Reese's Pieces.

While it's been estimated that the sales of Reese's Pieces increased anywhere from 65% to tripling after the release of the E.T., Los Angeles area shawarma restaurants are reporting at least an 80% increase in this middle eastern fare the opening weekend of The Avengers. (See: Shawarma Sales Skyrocket in L.A.)

It seems that it is not necessarily the scene in The Avengers where Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) asks Captain America if he has ever tried shawarma that is creating this shawarma-eating sensation.

Rather, interestingly enough, it is the post-credits clip of the actors still in costume, enjoying shawarma at an unnamed area restaurant that has caused the frenzy.

Shawarma in Doha Doha
Shawarma in Doha Doha | Source

What exactly is shawarma?

Shawarma is an Arab method for cooking meat. Meats such as chicken, lamb, beef, and sometimes goat are placed on a vertical spit that slowly turns. In fact the Arabic word shawarma is derived from the Turkish word cevirme which means to turn.

Slices of fat and seasoned or marinated meats are layered on the spit and the meat slowly cooks through the heat from the center cone throughout the day. With a large knife or other tool, meat shavings are removed from top-to-bottom and collected in a tray below. An onion, lemon or tomato may be added to the top of the skewer for additional flavor.

Shawarma being sliced and served in a pita

Chicken shawarma
Chicken shawarma | Source

Middle Eastern fast food

Move over McDonald's...Shawarma served in a hot pita makes the perfect fast food. In middle eastern countries shawarma is often prepared and served outdoors. The tall towers of meat and shawarma cutters in their full chef's garb make these outdoor vendors easy to spot.

Toppings may include:

  • tomatoes
  • cucumbers
  • pickled onions and turnips

Shawarmas also are served with a sauce like garlic, parsley or chili; or tahini or hummus.

This flavorful meaty middle eastern food varies in flavor and texture depending on the country or maybe even the particular city or neighborhood. This thinly sliced meat and toppings may be served inside a pita or rolled in a pita or other type of flat bread similar to a tortilla. Some people think of it as a middle eastern taco or Arab taco.

Chicken shawarma with oregano vinaigrette and garlic-yogurt sauce
Chicken shawarma with oregano vinaigrette and garlic-yogurt sauce | Source

Have you ever tried shawarma?

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Shawarma Grill House Copenhagen
Shawarma Grill House Copenhagen | Source

Shawarma vs. Gyro

Shawarmas are often confused with the Greek gyro. While there are similarities between the two foods, they are in fact different. The meat used for a gyro is also cooked slowly on a turning spit. (Gyro is greek for go around.)

So what's the difference between shawarma and gyro? The seasoning of the meats and the type of bread used are the main differences between a gyro and a shawarma.

Gyros are made using a thick, pocket-less pita. Whereas, the meat and toppings for a shawarma are put inside the pita bread pocket and then it is rolled and pressed flat. A shawarma is usually wrapped in foil or wax paper so the juices don't drip out.

Best shawarma in the world

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    • vibesites profile image

      vibesites 4 years ago from United States

      I looooooooooove shawarma!!!! Whenever town I go I would always look for a shawarma stall. It's filling, and really delicious -- sometimes I hanker for that more than I do for the hamburger. The pita bread is awesome.

    • Bryan W Cole profile image

      Bryan Cole 5 years ago from California

      Shawarma is shawamazing. California has some of the best shawarma restaurants. My favorite is chicken with tahini, lettuce, tomatoes, onion and a little chili sauce. The process of making Shawarma is so unique and very hard to replicate without the proper oven.

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 5 years ago from Illinois

      renegadetory - I've read that there are more shawarma restaurants in Ottawa than anywhere else on Earth. I guess most guesses as to why this is the case is because there is a large Lebanese population there, but I'm not sure if this is the real reason or not. Thanks for your comment. Looking at the pictures again certainly makes me wish I was in Ottawa get one easily.

    • renegadetory profile image

      Carolyn Dahl 5 years ago from Ottawa, Ontario

      There is a ton of shwarma places here in Ottawa! I never had shwarma until I came here and I love it! My favourite is the chicken with tons of garlic sauce, lettuce, tomato, pickles and turnips!

      I also loved the scene with Robert Downey Jr. in the Avengers movie when he references the Shwarma place around the corner. I found it rather funny!

      I love the pictures you chose for your hub, they are very appetizing and makes me very hungry for shwarma just looking at them...

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 5 years ago from Illinois

      Randy -- Well it's good you have pita bread in Costa Rica. I'm guessing you also have good fresh vegetables like tomato and cucumber to add as toppings. I guess you'll have to improvise on the meat part.

    • Randy M. profile image

      Randy McLaughlin 5 years ago from Liberia, Costa Rica

      Yum, I'll have to figure out a way to do this myself. It is unlikely that I will find something like this in Costa Rica. We do have pita bread here, though.

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 5 years ago from Illinois

      Thank you CrisSp. I'm glad this brought back some good memories for you. And now I'm craving Shawarma too. (The video clip from the Avengers has been replaced; thanks for letting me know.)

    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 5 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Great hub! Nice pictures and video! I've lived in the Middle East and have traveled into other Mid East countries where this famous Shawarma originated and I love it. It's very tasty and a healthier choice too with lots of crunchy mixed-veggies in it.

      Your hub reminds me of the good old days of life in the Middle East. Now, I'm craving and drooling.

      Thoroughly enjoyed this and I'm sharing all its goodness!

      P.S. The Avenger video doesn't play anymore. :(

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      ishwaryaa22 - Thanks for your wonderful answer. I can only imagine how hot it is with all the Indian spices and curry for those of us not used to those flavors. It's interesting that a different form of bread is used too. The cultural variations make food so interesting. Thanks again for your reply.

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      Rebeccamealey - Thanks for your comment. It is a delicious meal.

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      Cyndi10 - Shawarma may be one of those things that you've never heard of before, but once you have, you notice it everywhere. You should give it a try if you find it!

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      sammimills - I can see how a shawarma can become your favorite food. Thanks for the vote.

    • ishwaryaa22 profile image

      Ishwaryaa Dhandapani 6 years ago from Chennai, India

      Here I answered your question - in my country, sometimes they use Indian thin bread called roti or chapati as a wrap for shawarma fillings, instead of typical pita bread. The Indian flavours would be fillings cooked in Indian style - quite spicy and little curry(gravy)mixed with meat and added along with key fillings(hummus and fresh vegetables). Happy Hubbing. Take care.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 6 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      It looks and sounds good. I don't know if I'll get a chance to try shawarma but it is good to learn about it. Thanks!

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      ishwaryaa22 - I see from your profile that you are from India. I am curious to know what flavors are added to suit the people of your country? Chicken, hummus and tomatoes sound like a wonderful combination. Thanks for your comment and for sharing this too.

    • Cyndi10 profile image

      Cynthia B Turner 6 years ago from Georgia

      I've never eaten this or even heard of it until the movie and then I didn't pay any attention. It looks wonderful. I wonder if anyone in my part of the world (the American South) sells it? I'll soon find out. Thanks so much for sharing this information. Reading (and reading some of the comments) it at breakfast time is really making me hungry!

    • sammimills profile image

      sammimills 6 years ago from California, USA

      I love Shawarma! I remember the first time I tasted it and it was awesome. From then on, shawarma became one of my favorite food. Thanks for sharing this beautiful hub. Voted Up!

    • ishwaryaa22 profile image

      Ishwaryaa Dhandapani 6 years ago from Chennai, India

      I tasted shawarma and it tasted very nice! It is popular in my country and is customised to suit the tastes of people of my country and at the same time it retain its typical Middle Eastern flavours. I have not seen the film, 'The Avengers'(I eagerly wanted to see this film soon). After reading this hub, I learnt that this film with its heroes eating this delicacy resulted in the current popularity of shawarma. My favorite fillings are chicken kebabs, hummus and tomatoes. Delicious! Your hub serves as an eye-opener to many food-lovers, including me! Well-done!

      Thanks for SHARING. Awesome and Interesting. Socially Shared.

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      cardelean - Thanks for pointing out the difference the toppings on gyros vs. shawarmas. They are both delicious in their own way and apparently you feel that way too! Thanks for your comment.

    • cardelean profile image

      cardelean 6 years ago from Michigan

      Love, love, love Schawarma! I've not seen the avengers so I didn't even know it was in the movie but I love Middle Eastern food and we have some fantastic restaurants around here. The other big difference between gyros and schwarma is the stuff you fill it with. Gyros have a "cooler" cucumber/yogurt sauce while schwarma is more more garlicky and has pickles! Yum to both sandwiches! :)

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      prasetio30 - It's really an interesting way to cook the meat. By layering in some fat and cooking it slowly, the seasoned or marinated meat remains juicy. Sometimes when the meat is sliced off it is gathered in a receptacle which also has the vegetables, so they get even more flavor. It's an even tastier combination when sauce is added. I hope I didn't make you hungrier.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

      I had never know about shwarma. But from this hub, I know the detail of this cooking method. You make me hungry, my friend. Thanks for share with us. Rated up and Yummy :-)

      Best wishes, prasetio

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      ytsenoh - Doesn't it look delicious? Shawarma is also sometimes served without the pita on a plate, but the meat and toppings all wrapped up in a thick pita is what makes it so tasty.

    • ytsenoh profile image

      Cathy 6 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

      I haven't seen the movie either, but this type of sandwich sounds great. Thanks for enlightening us on what a shawarma is. Very interesting.

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      I think it is funny how a lot of companies pay for cross-promotions in movies, yet just generically mentioning shawarmas has increased sales of this food across many restaurants. You never know what might catch on, I guess. I also like hummus, but have not ever had tabouli. Thanks for your vote and for sharing this hub with others.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I did not see the movie, but love the flavor of shawarmas. I also love other types of middle Eastern foods like hummus, tabouli, etc. Yummy! Voted useful and will share with my followers.

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      Now that you mention it, it doesn't seem like Iron Man or any other super hero should need to eat. He mentions shawarmas after a battle scene. I included the movie clip just under the first photo if you need a little reminding. Shawarmas seem to be available everywhere. Just do a search for shawarma and your city and I bet you'll find plenty of them around. I am going to see if they have them at The Taste of Chicago this summer. I had an awesome gyro there many years ago.

    • profile image

      Arlene V. Poma 6 years ago

      Well, thanks to you and your shawarma Hub, k, I am craving one. But I haven't figured out where I can purchase one. Also, I would not mind watching the movie again to catch that scene you describe. For some reason, I don't picture super heroes ever stopping to eat.

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      Funny comment Arlene! The Avengers video clip shows the scene in the movie where shawarmas are mentioned and the same video has the scene where the actors are eating them. I guess that was enough to make people want a shawarma or to try one out. Enjoy your gyro and lunch out today.

    • profile image

      Arlene V. Poma 6 years ago

      I never had a shawarma, but once I see one, I will give it a try. I don't remember them in "The Avengers" because I was too busy looking at the human BEEFCAKE offered. Anyway, my hubby is taking me out to lunch at our favorite gyro place because a gyro right now will have to do.


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