Hungry for a visit to a restaurant? Many are going to be holding back that desire for a while yet even as the rules change. This week then, let’s stick with take-out.
Want to know the perfect grab-and-go? With a nod to Alex Trebek let’s call out: What is shawarma!
“Shawarma (/ʃəˈwɑːrmə/; Arabic: شاورما) is a dish in Middle Eastern cuisine consisting of meat cut into thin slices, stacked in a cone-like shape, and roasted on a slowly-turning vertical rotisserie or spit. Originally made of lamb or mutton, today's shawarma may also be chicken, turkey, beef, or veal,” states Wikipedia.
Roasting of meat on horizontal spits has that medieval “Holy Grail” banquet feel. This is an updated way of achieving that same savoury satisfaction.
Hot, flavourful -- and reasonably priced -- shawarma is one of the world's most popular street foods and you can have it right here in Sudbury. Yes, there are multiple outlets across the city that offer their versions on a theme. It’s time to visit one that makes it their focus.
Enter and instantly your hunger accelerates. Aromatics of grilled meat envelop you. Juicy beef and chicken “fast-style, slow-cooked” is the way The Shawarma Shop owner Kelsey Cutinello describes it.
Cutinello is a serial entrepreneur who credits local learning for enhancing her skills.
“My schooling at Cambrian and Laurentian has served me well. This is actually the brainchild of my boyfriend, Trevor Miles. He loved visiting his friend, whose family is from Lebanon. For 13 or so years he’s had the inspired idea to do this.”
You really can’t miss the place. It is across from Walmart on Lasalle.
“Lasalle is a busy street. We have good parking in our strip mall location,” Cutinello said. Place de Leon is next to the Pioneer gas bar. “The signage is our own take on the image, and colours outside and in are Mediterranean-influenced.”
Why shawarma now?
“Sudbury was not ready for this 20 or even 10 years ago. More ethnic food is coming. Sudbury is becoming more world-aware. Our biggest challenge (is) informing the public what shawarma is. Then they try it and love it. We have some customers who come five days a week.”
A streamlined menu simplifies choice.
“The timeline from order to going out the door is quick. Shawarmas are not prepared in advance. With our open kitchen you see the process. In and an out in 10 minutes or less is very predictable.”
Of both the operations and menu items, Cutinello is proud of how it has turned out.
“If we are going to do something, we are going to do it right,” Cutinello said. “Our claim to fame is our garlic sauce. Customers love it!”
There is a real art and science to building the meat stack. A skilled chef not just assembles, but spices with unique blends of paprika, turmeric, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, and, and in some, ‘baharat’. This word does mean “spice” in Arabic. It really is a mixture of allspice, black peppercorns, cassia bark, cloves, nutmeg, saffron, ginger, dried red chili peppers and all the others mentioned before. Traditional, regional palate and heritage dictates the proportions. In Turkey there is even the addition of mint.
“Stacking is an artform, slow spit there are a million different spices and seasonings. Top secret,” Cutinello said.
To the shaved meat, you then select chopped or shredded vegetables. To the toppings, many often add tahini. Cutinello describes this next step in the process: “Customizing starts with the vibrant pickled pink turnip, Lebanese cucumber, Hummus, lettuce, olives … It’s up to you. There’s hot sauce and a new Harissa sauce created here on site. It is all tightly wrapped in pita bread. Or you can have it as a plate with rice and salad like traditional Tabouli/Tabbouleh and Fattoush.”
Sometimes called chawarma, shaurma and showarma, there are also similar to the Doner kebab (Ottoman Empire), al pastor (Mexican via Lebanese immigrants), gyros (Greek influenced). Pickles and assorted condiments add oomph, bite, creaminess, and there’s that chin-dripping garlicy pleasure.
“We are often doing lots of promotions. We have a fan card and daily deals. Sure, from time to time I work behind the counter. I get interaction with customers, and refine and change my idea of market and direction. I’ve come to the conclusion the target demographic is everyone. It's cravable food! That is why we launched the ‘Take home Shawarma kit’ for friends and families. It even has a link to ‘how to’. There is a real technique to rolling a shawarma to get it tight and right.”
Cutinello points out that they also do a hearty lentil soup in the cooler weather and fresh to order falafel is loved by more than just the vegetarians.
“In Israel, most Shawarma shops offer mango sauce, additional toppings like grilled peppers, eggplant or french fries. We will kick it up and change it up as time goes on. We source local and do seasonal, too.”
As the economy opens back up there are still ways local businesses can adapt and incorporate protocols.
“Yes, we have limited seating,” Cutinello said. “We have every other table blocked off, too. We follow the rules. The Pandemic has definitely affected everyone … we are making it through. We are encouraging people to order and pay ahead through our website as it’s the fastest service and avoids third-party delivery sites as they take a very large commission.”
Cutinello has a challenge for fans of this pan-Mediterranean wrap.
‘I encourage people to go around to all the places that make shawarma and do a taste tour to find your own favourite.”
Sounds like a good and noble quest. Add your comments and discoveries below.
Hugh Kruzel is a committed foodie and a freelance writer in Greater Sudbury. Let’s Eat is made possible by our Community Leaders Program. Are you an advertiser? Learn more about our Community Leaders Program here.