To Every Season…Turn, Turn, Turn
Shawarma all year round.
Certain foods are best enjoyed in the cold winter months — hearty stews, heavy soups, thick slabs of meat. Others are better on sultry summer days — cold gazpacho, leafy salads, sautéed fish. And then there are those foods that can be enjoyed regardless of the turning of seasons. Indeed, one of them literally translates as “turning” — shawarma.
In September 2019, I had the good fortune to dine in Dubai at the Armani Hotel, which offers some of the finest international cuisine in the Emirates. Standing outside the hotel’s premiere Italian restaurant, with its signature truffle menu, I was reminded suddenly of the adage “when in Rome.” So I moved on through the lobby and soon found myself diving into a tasty dish of shawarma, grilled seasoned meat that is native to, and eaten year-round across, the Middle East.
Shawarma is typically served as a sandwich and, like all really good sandwiches, comes with various sauces and spices that add flavor. The “turning,” by which the sandwich is named, refers to how the sliced meat is prepared — stacked vertically, often with layers of fat in between, in a conical shape on a slowly rotating spit and roasted. It is then carved onto a tray before being placed into a pita or a laffa (large flatbread cooked in an oven), as I had it that day.
Although lamb or mutton were the traditional meats used in shawarma, modern adaptations may be made of turkey, chicken, beef, or veal. Shawarma is said to originate in Turkey, with the Turkish version sold as “doner kebab.” And for anyone who has ever eaten in Greece, or at almost any American diner, you will have seen the Greek version sold as “gyros.” (Both “doner” and “gyros” also refer to the turning action taken by the meat as it cooks.)
Shawarma has become so popular worldwide that it also can be found today at taco stands in the form of “tacos al pastor,” which reportedly was brought to Mexico about a century ago by Lebanese immigrants.
So whether you are in Los Angeles in spring, Santorini in summer, Dubai in autumn, or Antalya in winter, take the time to enjoy a delicious shawarma. ’Tis always the season.
Danilo Diazgranados is an investor, collector, and lover of fine wines and a member of the prestigious Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, a fraternity of Burgundy wine enthusiasts.